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Ben Keita: A Black American Muslim Lynching

Hena Zuberi

Published

A few nights ago, a little boy went missing from our community. It was a horrible, cold night that his mother spent in the masjid where he was last seen- he had taken the wrong bus. He was supposed to go home that day, not to the masjid, or his Quran teacher’s or his friend’s. Little Mohammed decided to walk home. Almost 20 miles away.

He was found the next day, Alhamdulillah thumma Alhamdulillah.

He was 8-years-old and reminded me of my son. His mother’s patience was a guiding light for the rest of us. His sister’s college Muslim Student Association searching and posting flyers in the wee hours of the night were beacons of light for us. His masjid protecting, soothing, supporting, serving the family through the night was an example of prophetic leadership for us.

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The very next day we hear of another case of a teenager, Ben Moussa Keita, who had been missing since November. His mother spent 45  nights without her son. 45 nights of prayers. 45 nights of patience and hope.

“Keita has no history of mental health issues and is supposed to be taking medication for a life-threatening health condition, officials said. His wallet, keys and cell phone were left behind.
Keita was last seen wearing gray sweats, a gray and blue hooded sweatshirt and gray and blue shoes,” reports local news. Ibrahima Keita describes his son Ben as a happy, generous young man with plans for his life.“He was planning to graduate this year from Lake Stevens High School,” said Keita. “He was already in the Running Start program at Everett Community College and he was dreaming of becoming a medical doctor and work as a medical examiner. Now those dreams are over.”

More than a month after his disappearance, Ben Keita’s body was found in the woods near the neighborhood.

“The original missing persons report said that he was last seen by his mother around 1 am. When he was found in January, there were no other injuries on his body.”

Ibrahima Keita said his son has no history of mental illness. “No history of depression, anxiety, any psychological break down at all, so he was a very young, happy young man.” He wanted to become a doctor.

Why did the American Muslim community not hear about Ben Keita earlier and how have people reacted to his death are all questions that need to be explored.

He was found in the woods, hanging from a tree 50 feet above the ground. Though the official investigation is still incomplete, most of us believe that he was lynched.

“The television station reported, the rope was tied 50 feet up the tree, which is unusual for a hanging, and K-9s dispatched to the scene did not initially find Keita’s body, KIRO 7 reported.” Heavy.com. Why was this labeled a suicide by the medical examiner especially when there is a high concentration of white supremacist groups in the North west.

“We are careful not to rush to judgment,” the Rev. Kele Brown, from the Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle, said, to the local news station. “Historically, lynchings were often deemed quickly as suicide without the benefit of thorough inquiry.”

For those of us who are not of African American descent or who may not have studied American history, sometimes do not know the vile history of lynching.

From the Civil War until World War II, millions of African Americans were terrorized and traumatized by the lynching of thousands of black men, women, and children. “For many African Americans growing up in the South in the 19th and 20th centuries, the threat of lynching was commonplace. The popular image of an angry white mob stringing a black man up to a tree is only half the story. Lynching, an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks, served the broad social purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the economic, social and political spheres.” PBS

From an explanation of the the PBS documentary The Murder of Emmet Till:

“Lynchings were frequently committed with the most flagrant public display. Like executions by guillotine in medieval times, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers and drew large crowds of white families. They were a kind of vigilantism where Southern white men saw themselves as protectors of their way of life and their white women. By the early twentieth century, the writer Mark Twain had a name for it: the United States of Lyncherdom.
Lynchings were covered in local newspapers with headlines spelling out the horrific details. Photos of victims, with exultant white observers posed next to them, were taken for distribution in newspapers or on postcards. Body parts, including genitalia, were sometimes distributed to spectators or put on public display. Most infractions were for petty crimes, like theft, but the biggest one of all was looking at or associating with white women. Many victims were black businessmen or black men who refused to back down from a fight.”

The burden of raising awareness about this crime should not be placed on our African American brothers and sisters.

Terror Tactic

According to a report by Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), “This was not “frontier justice” carried out by a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists. Instead, many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person. People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity.” Read more here. The Equal Justice report reads that “Racial terror lynching was a tool used to enforce Jim Crow laws and racial segregation—a tactic for maintaining racial control by victimizing the entire African American community, not merely punishment of an alleged perpetrator for a crime.”

May Allah keep our children safe. May Allah Kareem bless Ben’s family. May Allah shower his Protection on them. May Allah grant Ben Jannah. I am praying that we, non Black Muslims, wake up and embrace our Black brethren and mourn for their children like we mourn for those of us who are lighter in complexion. I have updated the title of the post to reflect that this crime was first and foremost about this race, being Muslim was a bonus.

Please leave a message of support for the Keita family on #BenKeita‘s death. Let them know we are praying for them and they have our support.

Please donate as the GoFundMe account for him is still not fully funded, even after a month of being live: https://www.gofundme.com/help-find-ben-keita-missing-person

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Alhamdulillah, we're at 900 supporters. Help us get to 1000 supporters before 2020 ends. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sparkie

    March 3, 2017 at 8:25 PM

    I am so sorry for the loss this young man who had such a bright future.We must come together and protect our children they are our future

  2. Avatar

    Ilhan

    March 3, 2017 at 8:59 PM

    As a Black Muslim, my heart and prayers go out to his family. I am deeply saddened that such a young boy, with a bright future ahead of him, spent his last moments alone in the dark woods where he was hanged from a tree and killed (according to all reports, — for his religion) without any family near him. Yet I know, with certainty, that omnipotent God was with him in that dark and isolated moment.
    I am, however, disgusted by the silence of the non-Black Muslims regarding this. The irony is not lost on me regarding the different responses to the death of Ben and the deaths of “Our Three Winners” from Muslims, and I use the word Muslims here very, very loosely. Ben doesn’t need any Muslim, or the Muslim community in this country, he has God. Shame on you all.

    • Avatar

      Brown Muslim

      March 3, 2017 at 11:06 PM

      You do know that the writer of this post is not black, right?

      • Avatar

        Yes I Know They Aren't Black

        March 3, 2017 at 11:49 PM

        Yes, I know the writer of this article is not black, but unfortunately the point still stands. The writer made the same point stating Muslims need to mourn equally for the death of the children of Black Muslims. Suffering is suffering and should be treated equally.

  3. Avatar

    sheena

    March 4, 2017 at 2:11 AM

    Inna lillahi wa inna alihi rajeoon. May Allah SWT give sabr e jamil to his family.

  4. Avatar

    Fareeha Naeem

    March 4, 2017 at 2:04 PM

    We are all in mourning…he was our son.

  5. Avatar

    anna apoian

    March 4, 2017 at 6:58 PM

    I am a middle aged white woman with two 17 year old sons myself. I hope you find the answers to your questions. I hope the FBI continues to look into this. I hope the media reports on it more. And if I could carry some of your pain Mr. and Mrs. Keita, I would. It sounds like you raised a wonderful young man. Ben had a bright future, preparing to assist others on his journey. I am so sorry for your loss and the world’s loss.

  6. Avatar

    Noorunnisa Ibrahim Kutty

    March 5, 2017 at 2:41 AM

    I’m not black, and I’m not from USA, but my heart is heavy, really heavy for the troubles of both blacks (Muslim or not) and my non-Muslim brethren in the States. No one should live in fear because of his race or religion. No mother should face the torment of wondering if their child will grow up and be destined to jail or other abuse just because of race or religion. Not all non-black Muslims are insulated from the suffering of others, neither are all non-Muslims. The caring heart exists still in many humans worldwide, may God grant the poor family strength to live through this ordeal, may the truth emerge and grant them closure and may the poor boy be granted Jannatul Firdauz through the mercy of God, Most Merciful.

  7. Avatar

    JF

    March 5, 2017 at 12:01 PM

    A lynching is a vigilante killing by a mob, often by hanging. There were 26 lynchings in Washington State between 1882-1968 (and none reported after that). 25 of the victims were white.

    Lynchings were/are very uncommon in Washington state. Virtually all people lynched have been white.
    There is no indication that Ben Keita was accused of a crime or that he was pursued by vigilantes.

    Muslims and African Americans have the tendency to make inflammatory accusations without a shred of evidence and it does not reflect well on your community. The last time this happened it was Hamza Warsame, who fell from a Seattle building to his death in 2015. The Somali community made accusations of racism and hate crimes before the facts were known. They said a “white man” beat and killed him.

    We now know that Hamza was high on marijuana, a psychoactive drug, when he fell and the nature of his fall makes it almost impossible that he could have been pushed.

    I would urge the black/Muslim community to refrain from making accusations against non-black/non-Muslim people unless there is some evidence to bear this out.

  8. Avatar

    Asma

    March 9, 2017 at 5:40 AM

    So sad . Inn Allah ma3 as sabreen. That is in acceptable justice should prevail. The boy is sure in Hannah .May Allah give sabr to his family.ameeen

  9. Avatar

    Kadence

    March 12, 2017 at 6:31 PM

    Blessings and prayers to the family and all my love and heart with them. This is heart breaking. I hope these wounds heal and Allah gives them all they need.

  10. Avatar

    Sahra

    March 18, 2017 at 3:05 AM

    Innalillaahi wa innaa ilayhi rajioon
    May Allah accept our young brother Ben Keita as a shaheed and may Allah give his loved ones sabr al Jameel Ameen we mourn for you our young brother, and we will never forget you.

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