Sheila Abdus-Salaam, America’s first-ever Muslim woman judge and the first African-American female to serve on New York’s highest court, has been found dead in New York, police say.
The 65-year-old judge’s body was found floating on the on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River on Wednesday, just a mile from her home in central Harlem.
Police called the late judge’s husband to identify her. She was reported missing since Tuesday. Officials said the body showed no signs of apparent trauma or injuries.
As a Muslim, Abdus-Salaam made history in 2013, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated her to serve on the state Court of Appeals.
“The New York Court of Appeals was saddened to learn today of the passing of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a most beloved colleague since she joined the Court in May 2013,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said.
Before getting unanimous approval for the job, Abdus-Salaam said, “being a judge is an honor and involves tremendous responsibility to the litigants and to society.”
Cuomo issued a statement on Wednesday, extending his condolences to Abdus-Salaam’s family.
“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the State’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” he said. “Through her writings, her wisdom, and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also grieved the judge’s “tragic passing,” calling her a “a humble pioneer.”
Also mourning Abdus-Salaam’s mysterious death was state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who described her as “an inspiration.”
Police said they were investigating the matter while the medical examiner tired to determine the judge’s cause of death.
Officials have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime. The incident comes months after a Muslim imam and his assistant were shot dead near a mosque in the New York City borough of Queens.
According to Brian Levin, a leading hate crimes researcher, hate crimes increased by more than 20 percent last year in nine US metropolitan areas, including New York City.
Levin argues that the divisive rhetoric of US President Donald Trump was largely to blame for the trend.