Recent deaths across the country are being labeled as suicides by law enforcement, but many concerned residents are calling for further investigations into possible lynchings.
The latest one occurred in Houston and the man was identified as Hispanic despite initial rumors that it was a Black man, according to the Houston Chronicles. When community members demanded answers, the Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted on Monday evening that the victim was a ” Hispanic/Caucasian male, and described by his family as suicidal.” Acevedo said there wasn’t evidence of foul play and that signs pointed to a suicide.
The man was found hanging outside a store in the Shady Acres community of Houston around 9:05 a.m., according to cops. A clip, which made its way around social media, showed what appeared to be a man hanging from a tree in a field at the location. Emergency vehicles were recorded at the scene.
Despite law enforcement believing the hanging was a suicide, the very public nature of such incidents is stirring suspicions, especially in light of various Black people who have been found hung over the past few months.
On June 9, 27-year-old Dominique Alexander was found dead by a passerby near the Hudson River in Upper Manhattan. He was also hanging from a tree, according to New York Daily News. Authorities ruled his death a suicide.
On June 10, 20-year-old Robert Fuller was found hanging from a tree near Palmdale City Hall in California. Lt. Brandon Dean of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau Department said that Fuller’s death also appears to be a suicide. His case is still currently under investigation, however.
His case caused the hashtag #JusticeForRobertFuller to trend on Twitter as folks called for further investigation into his death.
A family member of Fueller’s, Diamond Alexander, wrote on Facebook, “Words can’t describe how much my family is hurting right now. Today we just got word that Robert body was found hanging in a tree out in Palmdale. It’s still under investigation. If anyone seen anything please come forward. Brother you will forever be in our heart. RIP.” Alexander also started a GoFundMe for Fueller’s family.
According to CBS Los Angeles, the FBI and California Attorney General’s office said they will review the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s investigation into Fuller’s death.
In California, another man was found hanging back in May. Malcolm Harsch was found about 50 miles away from where Fuller died. The 38-year-old was hanging from a tree near a homeless encampment on May 31.
According to Daily Press, San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon along with “the Attorney General’s Division of Law Enforcement for the California Department of Justice and the City of Victorville are working closely with the Victorville Sheriff’s Station in the probe regarding the death of Malcolm Harsch.”
“We take very seriously the concerns voiced by so many who fear that Malcolm’s death could be racially motivated, a hate crime, or a form of retaliation,” said Victorville Mayor Gloria Garcia. “As City Leaders, we share these concerns; and a thorough investigation is being conducted. Malcolm Harsch’s life matters to our City.”
State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Antelope Valley, said he talked with state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and learned that DOJ investigators will work with local law enforcement in Harsch’s case.
The sheriff’s department said a call came in at 7:07 from a woman who said her boyfriend hanged himself. Medical aid and deputies then responded to a vacant lot and the Sheriff’s office said people at the “encampment” were administering CPR on the person, who was later identified as Harsch. Then deputies arrived and took over. Medical personnel arrived a short time later.
“Despite additional lifesaving efforts,” medical personnel pronounced Harsch dead, Sheriff’s officials explained.
“The caller said she and (her) boyfriend … had been together during the morning, but she had since returned to her tent for a short period of time,” Sheriff’s officials said. “She was alerted by others in the encampment that Mr. Harsch was found hanging from a tree and cut down. People in the encampment were performing CPR, attempting to revive Mr. Harsch.”
Sheriff’s officials also said, “Sheriff’s Department personnel at the scene, including the coroner investigator, did not recover any evidence to suggest foul play. Detectives from the Victorville Police Department are continuing to investigate the death of Mr. Harsch. Detectives have interviewed several people who were at or near the location at the time of the incident.”
Harsch’s wife was reached on June 1 by a coroner official regarding his death after an unsuccessful attempt to contact next of kin on May 31. Harsch’s family said they regarded his passing as suspicious and expressed concern that the investigation was carrying on too long. They disputed reports that Harsch was depressed or suicidal.
“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,” the family said in a statement. “We want justice, not comfortable excuses.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, “The family also said they were told that Harsch, at 6 foot 3, wasn’t dangling from the tree and that there was blood on his shirt. At the same time, there did not appear to be any evidence at the scene to suggest a struggle, they said. They also noted that his body sat at the San Bernardino County coroner’s office for 12 days before an autopsy was performed.”
The recent hangings have especially caused concerns considering the recent uprisings across the country for Black lives. People have protested and rallied in places like Minneapolis, Tallahassee and Louisville over the deaths of people like George Floyd, Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
The movement has grown, building off #BlackLivesMatter protests from the early 2010s over the death of youth like Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. The outrage has since spread to companies who are franticly trying to root out and address racism within their own ranks.
With such resistance against police violence and systematic racism, the backlash from white supremacist groups has already occurred thanks to the rise of white power and far-right protests. Considering demonstrations like these, suspicions of lynchings are not far off. Social media continues to demand further investigations into the latest hangings.
“These hangings are not suicides,” one social media user plainly repeated.