October 5, 2002
Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:
Having gathered October 3-6, 2002, at the international conference "Lynching and Racial Violence in America: Histories and Legacies," at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in conjunction with the exhibit "Without Sanctuary," we, the undersigned, call attention to the suspicious hanging death of Mr. Leonard Gakinya in Springfield, Missouri, on Wednesday, October 2, 2002, as reported in the Springfield News-Leader. We demand an investigation by federal law enforcement agencies of the suspicious death of Mr. Gakinya. The U.S. government has recently made an enormous commitment to the investigation of international terrorism; nonetheless, numerous instances of domestic terrorism continue to go ignored and uninvestigated. This conference and this young man's death have compelled us to demand that our government examine the practice of domestic terrorism.
Mr. Gakinya was found hanging from a radio tower in downtown Springfield. While local police assert that his death was a suicide, Mr. Gakinya's family vigorously disputes this conclusion. Mr. Gakinya's death recalls a triple lynching of three innocent Black men in Springfield's square on Easter weekend 1906. These men were hanged from a city-owned tower. To this day, Springfield remains notorious as a hub of white supremacist activity.
The death of Mr. Gakinya powerfully evokes a centuries-long history of racially motivated murders of African-Americans in the U.S. But, clearly, we cannot confine our moral outrage and witness to the past. As calls for war escalate daily, and the nation's attention is focused on international terrorism, we must not forget the racial terrorism that continues to plague our own society. The hasty conclusion of the police investigation in Springfield, your hometown, gives us pause, and reminds us of the summary dismissal of so many lynchings "at the hands of persons unknown."
Therefore, we, the undersigned scholars and activists, call for a complete and thorough investigation by the Department of Justice and all other relevant authorities of the suspicious death of Mr. Leonard Gakinya. Specifically, we call upon you Attorney-General Ashcroft to exercise personal supervision of this investigation and to take as vigorous action against racially motivated domestic terrorism as you have in the pursuit and prosecution of international terrorists. Given the long, shameful history of underinvestigated and unprosecuted crimes against African Americans and other oppressed groups, it is imperative that justice be pursued today.