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Questions left unanswered
Lynching in a Florida town?

By Nicole Colson | August 8, 2003 | Page 2

WAS FERARIS "Ray" Golden lynched? That's the question that many people in Belle Glade, Fla., are still asking--even after local officials ruled that his death was a suicide.

Belle Glade is a rural town where about half of the 15,000 residents are Black. The dividing line between Black and white is stark. In 2000, unemployment for Blacks in Belle Glade was 15.4 percent--nearly seven times the white unemployment rate of 2.3 percent. Nearly 44 percent of Blacks lived in poverty that year, compared to just 3.2 percent of whites.

During the 2000 election--which Florida Gov. Jeb Bush helped to steal for his big brother--20 percent of ballots from Black precincts in Belle Glade were discounted. And residents say police drove by polling stations to intimidate Black voters from turning out.

Some of these same residents believe that Belle Glade's racism took a horrific turn in May, when Ray Golden was found hanging from a tree in his grandmother's backyard.

The police story is that Ray had been depressed, and he hanged himself. After Ray's death, rumors began circulating that he had been beaten and then lynched--with his hands tied behind his back. A police videotape of the scene shows Ray's arms swaying at his sides, but some residents believe that the cops tampered with Ray's body before videotaping the scene.

Ray was a target, say friends and family, because he was dating a white police officer's daughter, Judi Stambaugh. Stambaugh herself calls Ray's death a lynching. "I'm probably one of the few white people who do believe that," she told the Palm Beach Post.

So much outrage remained about Ray's death that a judge ordered a coroner's inquest--the first in Palm Beach County in 18 years. The inquest ruled the death a suicide, but activists say police and county officials weren't really interested in investigating whether Ray might have been murdered.

In fact, when the judge asked if the police had investigated the rumor that Ray had dated a white woman and if this "might have upset some people," the lead detective said that they had not.

"The police want this to be a suicide," one Black resident told the Post. "If he was murdered, this town would blow up. These people would be rioting in the streets."

Questions about Ray's death continue to emerge. Last week, Bobby Doctor, director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' Southern regional office, said that he found information that contradicts evidence presented at the inquest. Doctor told reporters that, among other things, he has spoken to people who did not testify at the official inquest--because they were afraid to speak publicly.

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