Less than 24 hours after news broke that a Black man, Robert Fuller, was found hanging from a tree in the Los Angeles suburb of Palmdale, California on June 12, local outlets are reporting that another Black man, Malcolm Harsch, was found dead in similar circumstances less than two weeks ago, on May 31.
The 38-year-old was found less than fifty miles from where Fuller’s body was discovered. In both cases, local authorities quickly ruled the deaths as suicide, saying no foul play was involved. However, community members and the families of the deceased are not convinced, and demand further investigation into the deaths.
Hanging from a tree is, of course, an image charged with the racist history of lynchings and that both men were found dead near city buildings — Robert Fuller, 24, near City Hall and Harsch, near the public library — is raising questions. Fuller’s body was found in Palmdale, known to be a white conservative area.
RELATED: Body Of Black Man Found Hanging From Tree Outside Of Los Angeles
A Change.org petition calling for an investigation into Harsch’s death topped 10,000 signatures by Sunday morning (June 14) and is rising rapidly.
Lt. Kelly Yagerlener of the L.A. County medical examiner-coroner’s office said a decision on the cause of Harsch’s death is deferred pending an investigation. A full autopsy is planned.
More than 200,000 people signed an online petition demanding a full investigation into Fuller’s death. According to the Victorville Daily Press, community members confronted city officials at a contentious news briefing Friday, asking why they were quick to label his death a suicide and demanding an independent autopsy.
After initially ruling Fuller’s death a suicide, L.A. Sheriff’s Capt. Ron Shaffer said homicide detectives were investigating the circumstances leading to his death to determine if foul play was involved, the Daily Press reports. He urged members of the public to contact detectives if they have relevant information, particularly about where Fuller had been and who he had been with in recent weeks.
“Robert was a good little brother to us and it’s like everything they have been telling us has not been right … and we just want to know the truth,” Fuller’s sister Diamond Alexander said to the paper.
Harsch’s family members, like Fuller’s, also doubt he died by suicide. “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 family said in a statement. “The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible.”
The Los Angeles Times reports, “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.”
“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,” Harsch’s family wrote. “He was an African American male, whose body was found hanging in a tree in Victorville California!”
The family said a deputy who called to confirm Harsch’s death asked about drug or alcohol use, “made a statement about how the coronavirus has ‘hit people really hard’ and said a USB cord was used to hang him.”
“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,” Harsch’s family said. “We want justice not comfortable excuses.”
Both Palmdale and Victorville have erupted in protests the past few weeks following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people killed at the hands of police.