Death of Trailblazing Black Judge Was Likely Suicide, Police Say; Conspiracy Theories Fly

The body of Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found floating in the Hudson River Wednesday, April 12. (Photo by Tim Roske)

The mysterious death of trailblazing New York Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was likely a suicide, according to law enforcement officials.

Abdus-Salaam, whose body was found floating along the Hudson River Wednesday, April 12, was the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s highest court. She was reported missing by family members earlier that day.

Those close to Abdus-Salaam described her as a “humble pioneer” and “trailblazing jurist,” but they knew little about the fact that her life had been marked with tragedy. According to police, the judge’s brother killed himself three years ago around this same time. They also said the 65-year-old had been experiencing some stress at work.

Authorities responded to a 911 call around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning about a body seen floating in the river. They discovered an unconscious female, who was pronounced dead and later identified as Abdus-Salaam. Robert Boyce, chief of detectives for the New York police, said there were no apparent injuries to the judge’s body and that her death didn’t appear to be suspicious or criminal in nature.

Detectives also never found a suicide note, CNN reported.

“Obviously, we’re still waiting for the full investigation. But, to the extent that the challenges and the stresses in her life contributed to this, it’s a reminder that even the most accomplished people still deal with extraordinary challenges inward and we don’t get to see that,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at a news conference Thursday, April 13.

“It is humbling. It’s a sad day,” de Blasio added. “Someone who got so far and was lost so soon.”

Abdus-Salaam’s death comes just days after that of Chicago Judge Raymond Miles, who was fatally shot by an attempted robber while leaving his home Monday, April 10. The coincidental timing of the judges’ deaths have led some critics to believe the instances might be related, or worse, part of a larger plot against Black judges nationwide. This is despite the fact authorities said Abdus-Salaam died of an apparent suicide and that a suspect has since been charged in Myles’ death.

That didn’t stop critics from taking to social media to voice their suspicious and conspiracy theories, however.

In addition to their suspicions, some blasted the mainstream media for its failure to thoroughly cover the deaths of Myles and Abdus-Salaam.

As of now, there has been no evidence to suggest that the two deaths are related.

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