Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a pioneer for equal rights, and the first Muslim woman in American history to serve as our country’s judge, was found dead in the Hudson river in Manhattan this week.
“ Justice Shelia Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and just New York for all,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated, among the many who admired and respected all of the work that she did for the people in this country. Justice Abdus-Salaam was also prominent in Lgbtq rights, in legal issues such as same sex parents having rights over their adoptive children. She re-wrote the narrow-minded definition of the word “parent”, expressing how harmful it was for both sides of the relationship to separate the parents and children, biological or not.
The New York times described her role in the judicial system most accurately as, “among the most reliable and steadfast liberal voices, regularly siding with vulnerable parties- the poor, impoverished immigrants and people with mental illnesses, for instance- against more powerful and established interests.” Not only did she exhibit bravery through introducing herself as the first Muslim judge, but she also was the first African American woman to serve on the Court of Appeals.
Her death was deemed a suicide by authorities, her body fully clothed and not exhibiting any signs of trauma. But the news has struck the media as not only tragic, but also suspicious. Her influential position as a black, Muslim, woman was an inspiration for many, but spiteful in the eyes of racist and misogynistic individuals.
Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a woman who was not only excellent at her work, but an outstanding human being, powered with the desire to obtain equality for all. New York and the rest of America will continue to acknowledge all of the progressive work that she did for marginalized communities, with honor.