“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
Billie Holiday referred to the bodies of lynched black men hanging from the branches of billowy trees in the south as “strange fruit.”
Although California is now one of the agricultural breadbaskets in our land, it is still shocking to hear about the recent bumper crop of “strange fruit” that found in the state far from the belt of southern states where lynching was once so prevalent.
While the world was reeling with protests against police brutality and huge crowds of people were marching while chanting “Black lives matter” last week, 24-year-old Robert Fuller was found hanging in a tree near Palmdale City Hall on Wednesday in what police are characterizing as a “suicide” despite the other implications inherent when a black man’s body is found in a tree with a noose around his neck.
Now, the story of a second African American man found hanging from a tree in California recently has come to light.
Police are investigating the death of 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch whose body was found hanging in a tree near the Victorville City Library in San Bernadino county in southern California by the Victorville City Fire Department on May 31st.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is still conducting an active investigation into the death but told Victor Valley News that, despite the circumstances that would lead one to suspect a possible lynching may have occurred, they do not suspect that foul play was involved in Harsch’s death.
“There were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play; however, the cause and manner of death are still pending,” Sheriff’s Spokeswoman Jodi Miller said to Victor Valley News.
While Harsch’s family initially declined to comment at the time of the discovery of his body, preferring to hold off until they had more details from the sheriff’s department, they contacted the local news outlet yesterday with the following statement that cast doubt upon the official, if incomplete, police narrative:
“Our brother Malcolm Harsch died on May 31st. His cause of death has not been released to the family yet but we are concerned that his death will be labeled as a suicide, as this is what was communicated to us upon confirmation of his death on the morning of June 1st,” the family stated.
“Amidst the current racial tension and following the protesting the night prior to his body being discovered we were truly troubled to learn of his passing particularly of how his body was discovered. He is an African-American man whose body was found hanging from a tree! The deputy who called to confirm his death asked questions about drug or alcohol use, he made a statement about how the coronavirus has “hit people really hard” and said that a USB cord was used to hang himself,” the statement continued.
“As most of us are in Ohio, we weren’t able to physically go to the location where he was found dead but did speak to a few people who were around at the time of the discovery. We were told that his 6 foot 3 inches long body wasn’t even dangling from the tree. There was blood on his shirt but there didn’t appear to be any physical implications at the scene to suggest that there was a struggle or any visible open wounds at that time. His body sat at the San Bernardino County Coroner for 12 days before an autopsy was performed. We understand that Victorville is a small city and have been reminded regularly that San Bernardino is very busy (as if we aren’t patient enough for necessary answers) but feel that our brother’s death will be waived off as a suicide to avoid any further media attention. Malcolm had very recent conversations with his children about seeing them soon. He didn’t seem to be depressed to anyone who truly knew him. EVERYONE who knew our brother was shocked to hear that he allegedly hung himself and don’t believe it to be true as well as the people who were there when his body was discovered. The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible. There are many ways to die but considering the current racial tension, a black man hanging himself from a tree definitely doesn’t sit well with us right now. We want justice not comfortable excuses,” the Harsch family told Victor Valley News.
Malcolm Harsch’s family seem determined to not let his death be swept under the carpet by authorities seeking to minimize racial tensions at such an explosive time.
The world is full of strange coincidences, but two black men found hanging from trees within the space of two weeks in cities just an hour’s drive away from each other seems too large a coincidence to ignore.
The world may be full of strange coincidences, but it doesn’t need to be full of “strange fruit” as well. The deaths of Malcolm Harsch and Robert Fuller need to be investigated as thoroughly as possible and, if the symbolism of their methods of death are any indication that suicide is indeed an unlikely conclusion, those responsible for their lynchings need to be brought to justice.
“Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”— “Strange Fruit — Billie HolidayLyrics & Music by Abel Meerpool.
Original reporting by Victor Valley News.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.