Death and Doubts

Ray Golden's hanging was a national curiosity. Maybe his legacy will be social justice.

D and his friends think Ray was murdered because he was screwing "Becky," the infamous daughter of a white police officer. They say the young woman frequently hung out in the black community. "We the people she chose to hang around with," says a guy with smoky black skin and dreadlocks to his chin who gave his name as John. He claims the police stopped Becky one night when she was in the area. "The police tried to make her leave, told her to hang around with your own kind," he says.

Becky and Ray hooked up, the four friends agree. "Everybody knew about it," D says. The friends say the couple was together the night Ray died. "He walked her home," one of the friends says. "That night!"


Colby Katz
From left: The spindly schefflera tree in southeast Belle Glade where Bernice Golden found her son Ray hanging on May 28; a yellow ribbon and a cluster of flowers remind passers-by that Ray Golden died here; the bleak streets of southwest Belle Glade where Ray Golden spent many a day hanging out.
Colby Katz
From left: The spindly schefflera tree in southeast Belle Glade where Bernice Golden found her son Ray hanging on May 28; a yellow ribbon and a cluster of flowers remind passers-by that Ray Golden died here; the bleak streets of southwest Belle Glade where Ray Golden spent many a day hanging out.

On SE Third Street, just down the street from the Golden home, "Becky" is just dragging herself out of bed at 2 p.m. one Sunday. Her name is actually Judi Stambaugh, though her nickname since high school has been Becky. She is the daughter of Belle Glade Police Lt. Curtis Stambaugh.

She nestles into a recliner in her parents' incredibly cluttered living room, dressed in a white T-shirt and blue jeans. Though she is 22 years old, her blond hair is pulled back into a girlish ponytail. She has fuzzy pink bedroom slippers on her bare feet. She places her cell phone nearby so she can monitor calls from friends.

When Stambaugh graduated from Glades Central Community High School, in 1998, there were only about ten white students enrolled, she says. Because of that, she has many black friends. Since Palm Beach County schools were integrated, most white families in Belle Glade send their children to the private high school, Glades Day School.

Judi says, yes, she hangs out on the same street corners that Ray did. When she started to date about four years ago, Judi says, she went with black men. But she asserts she was never involved with Ray Golden. "We were neighbors. We'd say hello. As far as dating? There was nothing like that," she says. And when Ray died, she says, she was seeing someone else. "My boyfriend walked me home that night," she says. As for her father Curtis, Judi dismisses the idea he would be involved in the murder of Ray Golden. "My dad would never do anything like that," she comments. "If he was going to do some violence because I dated black men," Judi says, "it would have happened years ago."

But she does think Ray was murdered, and she doesn't rule out members of the Belle Glade Police Department or the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office as suspects. "There are just too many unanswered questions," she says.

Like Judi, Belle Glade Police Chief Miller dismisses the notion that Lt. Stambaugh had anything to do with Ray's death. Stambaugh has worked for the Belle Glade Police Department for 30 years, he explains. He has done volunteer work, served on boards of several local nonprofits, and worked with the Glades Central football team. Did Stambaugh lynch Ray Golden? he is asked. "No, no, no," he responds.


A large crowd fills the chairs waiting for haircuts at the Black Gold City Salon, 401 W. Avenue A. Gospel music blares from a stereo. A barber, who identifies himself only as "JAP," an abbreviation for "just a person," clips the hair of one client after another in a style he describes as "Black Gold." JAP explains that the problem in Belle Glade is that those in power act to keep their power. "I call them overseers," he says of the police. Since Ray's death, the cops have been strictly enforcing rules, JAP says. He thinks they will keep pressure on the community until people stop complaining about Ray. "People will say, 'It's bad about Ray, but I want my privileges back,'" he predicts.

In Belle Glade, JAP says, the black community has been conditioned into silence and compliance. "The fear travels deep in their veins."

People don't complain, he says, because they fear losing their jobs. "They control you by jobs. You don't go complain because you might lose your job the next day. They got children to feed."

He says police enter the black community prepared to do damage rather than enforce the law. "They come in with a purpose -- seek and destroy."

Martin Luther King III says he wants to reopen Ray's case. At the behest of the SCLC, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission requested a Justice Department probe. As of October 6, there was no response. King says he will return to Belle Glade for a march with the NAACP on November 14 or 15. King hopes Ray's death will serve as a rallying point for change.

"Every now and then, a community will rise up," he says. "And in this context, the Golden hanging is just a catalyst. Whether or not it can be sustained and create change, I don't think we can say at this point. But those of us who care have to continue to raise this issue and other issues around economic justice. We have Belle Glades, pockets of them, all over this country."

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