MORRIS TOWNSHIP – A young black man hanging from a tree conjures up the worst stories from America’s racial history.
It happened on June 28 in Lewis Morris Park and the ramifications are not yet over. Few things happen in a vacuum and this case occurred in the midst of protests all over the country – Morris County included – over the death of George Floyd in late May. It also occurred at a time when other young black men have been found hanging from trees elsewhere in the country.
The man found dead in the park was Amani Kildea, 20, who was born in Ethiopia and who was adopted by a family from Washington Township, about 15 miles west of the park.
The county prosecutor said in a July 1 statement that, “There is no cause to believe there is any criminality involved. The Morris County Medical Examiner has determined the manner of death as suicide.”
Case closed. Just an awful tragedy.
But maybe not.
Two days later, the prosecutor’s office dispatched a second statement that reiterated there was no evidence of a criminal act. But it added, “However, our efforts to determine what occurred remain very active. We have followed and continue to follow all investigative leads and will go where the evidence takes us.” The statement also pointed out that the county medical examiner “does not work for the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.”
The two statements, which somewhat conflict with each other, and the country’s overall racial climate enveloped a vigil last week for Kildea that drew about 100 people to the park’s Sugarloaf section, which was where the body was found.
Skepticism about initial reports this was a suicide was summed up by one of the speakers, the Rev. Alison Miller of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, who told the crowd, “Young black men are not guaranteed justice in this community.”
Hoping to get that “justice,” the group, Black Lives Matter Morristown, is asking the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate what it terms the “suspicious death” of Kildea. A letter to the AG’s office was sent today. Monday.
Putting aside any racial aspects to this case, there are other factors here. As the letter to the AG’s office points out, Kildea was apparently involved in trying to entrap pedophiles via the Internet.
“Amani and his four friends have exposed at least 30 pedophiles in the North Jersey area,” the letter says.
One need not be an expert in criminal justice to realize that civilians trying to expose pedophiles can be a very dangerous practice. And clearly one that can result in someone getting harmed, or even killed.
At the same time, the letter suggests this activity shows that Kildea, who apparently wanted a career in law enforcement, was looking to his future and, thus, was not the type to kill himself.
Perhaps. On the other hand, there are not always outward signs an individual is going to commit suicide. Who really knows the demons inside others?
The rather lengthy, BLM- Morristown letter traces recent lynches around the country and asserts that law enforcement in Morris County is not sympathetic to minority concerns.
“It is quite difficult for many black folk to believe that black people are hanging themselves by the neck in public from trees while the fire of racial politics continues to blaze,” the letter says.
Moreover, the letter says that there are more than a dozen questions about Kildea’s death that need investigating.
They include details of the actual hanging, the last people to speak to Kildea, how long he was deceased before being found, the frequency of police patrols in the park and whether he was recently involved in identifying a suspected pedophile.
There also is a very practical query – how did Kildea get to the park? If he drove, was his vehicle found? Did someone give him a ride? Did he use Uber?
These are some pretty good questions; let’s see if the office of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal decides to get involved.
Full Disclosure: The writer spent seven months in 2017 as Public Information Officer for the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.