Accusing the Morris County prosecutor of a “rush to judgment” in last month’s hanging death of Amani Kildea in a county park, Black Lives Matter Morristown on Friday demanded the state take over the investigation into the death of the 20-year-old Black man.
Letters to Gov. Phil Murphy and state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal were signed by 52 individuals and organizations who disputed the Morris County Medical Examiner’s initial finding of suicide. An online petition demanding “Justice for Amani Kildea” has garnered more than 730,000 signatures.
“The historical seasons have changed, and once again, America’s trees are bearing strange and bitter fruit – dead Black bodies. In our country’s racist history, when a Black person was hung in public, it was to send a message,” stated Black Lives Matter, citing six other Blacks found dead by hanging across the nation in recent weeks, deaths that authorities have deemed, at least preliminarily, as suicides.
“Tree hangings evoke traumatic memories of America’s grisly history of unpunished lynchings of thousands of Black adults and children. It is quite difficult for many Black folks to believe that Black people are hanging themselves by the neck, in public, from trees, while the fire of racial politics continues to blaze,” said the letters.
They demand the state conduct “a thorough, prompt, appropriate and professional investigation into the suspicious death” of Kildea, whose body was found hanging in Lewis Morris Park in Morris Township on Sunday, June 28, 2020.
Reiterating suspicions that Kildea could have been targeted for participating in a vigilante group that hunted for pedophiles, Black Lives Matter blasted Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp for reporting the suicide ruling, and stating “there is no cause to believe there is any criminality involved,” less than 72 hours after the Washington Township resident’s body was discovered.
Knapp subsequently said the death remains under investigation. No further information has been released.
“Amani’s work in the community to expose sexual predators was brave, but dangerous, leaving him vulnerable to retaliation from those criminals,” Black Lives Matter asserted in Friday’s letters to the Governor and Attorney General.
Black Lives Matter wants to know whether the Prosecutor’s Office interviewed the 30 or so people allegedly “exposed” online by PedoGotCaught, the pedophile-hunting group that appeared to be inspired by the former TV show, To Catch a Predator. Other questions include who were the last people to communicate with Kildea, how he traveled to the park, where he was found and by whom, and details about the hanging.
The Prosecutor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. A spokesman for Gov. Murphy referred questions to the Attorney General’s office, which declined to comment.
Born in Ethiopia, Kildea was adopted at age 5 by a white pastor and his family in Washington Township. The family concurred with the suicide finding, and asked mourners to make donations in Kildea’s memory to suicide prevention organizations.
Kildea played football at West Morris Central High School, went through Army Reserves training to be a military policeman, and dreamed of a career in the FBI or CIA, according to his family. He was scheduled to attend James Madison University in the fall.
“It is possible that Amani’s death was caused by suicide, however, our community has zero faith in the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to properly handle this case with carefulness, truth and to treat the Black community with empathy during this time,” stated Black Lives Matter.
The organization referred to a Civil Rights lawsuit last year in which two Black detectives claimed they were harassed and denied promotions. The Prosecutor’s Office denied those allegations.
Black Lives Matter also contended Knapp ended a community policing program, and that a Morristown murder case involving immigrants initially was ruled a suicide. Kleber Cordova, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, was convicted of drowning his wife in their bathtub, in a prosecution that preceded Knapp’s tenure. Cordova had claimed the drowning was an accident.
America has a history of declaring lynchings of Blacks to be suicides, Black Lives Matter said, citing the 1935 hanging and shooting of farm laborer Ab Young in Mississippi, and the 1941 hanging of Felix Hall, whose body was found dangling over a ravine at Fort Benning, Ga., with his hands and legs bound behind his back.
The letters to Murphy and Grewal, which were copied to Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, were signed by pastors and ministers from seven churches, including Morristown’s Bethel A.M.E. Church, the Church of God in Christ for All Saints, and the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship.
Signatories also included the Rutger-Camden Black Law Students Association, Young Professionals for Justice, Platinum Minds Inc., the League of Women Voters of the Morristown Area, the Morris County Democratic Committee, the Morris chapter of the National Organization for Women, Mutual Morris, and the Green Party of Morris County.