It is horrifying to know that even in a highly charged national moment in which Black lives have finally been placed at the forefront of public consciousness, a Black man can be found hanging from his neck outside of a city hall with little response from the rest of the nation.
At around 4 A.M. on Wednesday morning, Robert Fuller was found hanging from a tree in Poncitlán Park across the street from city hall in Palmdale, California.
Officials have said the cause of death is most likely suicide, though they are awaiting the results of a toxicology test and autopsy, says the Antelope Valley Press.
However, the extremely public manner of his death has many people suspecting a lynching — and the city of Palmdale has a troubling history with nooses.
Four school teachers and their principal were placed on leave in 2019 after a photograph emerged of them holding a noose and having a jolly good laugh at the idea of a mob murdering Black people.
And this morning there are claims a man found hanging from a tree outside city hall was a suicide.
— Indignant Chickadee (@turningaphrase) June 12, 2020
There is understandable concern within the community that city leaders may not be taking the investigation seriously. Even as he acknowledged that police were too quick to say Fuller killed himself (“Maybe we should have said it was ‘an alleged suicide.’”), City Manager J.J. Murphy openly implored a gathering of concerned citizens, “Can I also ask that we stop talking about lynchings?”
“Hell no!” they shouted back. Murphy’s message, no matter how unintended was clear: officials were more concerned with moving on with minimal inconvenience than getting to the truth.
Palmdale appears to have a serious problem with suicides too; so far this year, 15 deaths have been ruled “suicides,” outpacing even the ravages of COVID-19.
Once you begin to do the slightest amount of digging, you quickly discover that there are a terrifying number of cases where young black men are found hanging from trees, their deaths ruled a suicide by police.
Danye Jones, 24, a prominent protester in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, was found hanging from a tree in October 2018. Police ruled his death a suicide, though his mother believed that they had “lynched my baby.”
Roosevelt Champion III, 43, was found hanging from a tree in Greensboro, Georgia, barely a week after he was investigated by the police in connection to the death of a white woman. His death was ruled a suicide.
Michael George Smith, 22, was found hanging from a tree in an Atlanta park in 2016.
A black man hanging from a tree is the defining symbol of America’s white supremacist past, and the events of the past few weeks have been a grim reminder that those evil forces are still just as alive and well today as they were 200 years ago.
While there is no evidence of foul play as of yet, the nation must demand the Justice Department launch a full investigation into Fuller’s death. The manner of his death suggests there’s something else going on here, and we need to know what happened.
— Nicole Dome (@emodelocin) June 12, 2020
At the very least, we cannot let his life fade away into history without acknowledging the wonder that it was and discovering what was it that killed him.
Say his name.
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Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.