The Breakdown With Shaun King: A Hard Conversation About Robert Fuller, Lynching, and Mental Health

On June 10, 24-year-old Robert Fuller was found hanged from a tree in Palmdale, California.

This morning, the Los Angeles medical examiner and sheriff’s department ruled his death a suicide. Investigators took multiple factors into consideration, including no signs of struggle or bondage of the wrist or ankles. The angle in which the rope was tied indicated it was tied by someone in the tree and that Fuller was not hoisted up.

Fuller had a documented history of mental illness and was hospitalized for suicidal ideation. Investigators also noted linear scars along his left wrist consistent with self-inflicted scars.

His tragic death comes just weeks after Malcolm Harsch was found hanging from a tree about 50 miles away. His death was also ruled a suicide after family and law enforcement reviewed nearby surveillance footage.

In the midst of ongoing protests against police brutality and white supremacy, sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, these apparent suicides by hanging have captured national attention in part due to their stark resemblance to the lynchings of the civil rights era. As more and more Americans realize that this country has not come nearly as far from the days of Jim Crow as they once believed, the idea that white mobs were behind these hangings is not a far fetched one. With KKK rallies and the mass shooting of a Black church all taking place within the past five years, no seemingly outdated act of terror can be ruled from suspicion.

Yet, the sinister motives of white supremacy still played a factor in the deaths of these two young Black men. There is an epidemic of suicides happening in the Black community, especially among men. Only recently have mental health issues in the Black community been taken seriously by psychologists, as it was previously believed to be an issue that affected majority-white Americans.

Mental health has been stigmatized by both the Black and white community alike, with many white doctors believing Black people simply do not feel depression because it is not in their genes, and Black doctors ruling out depression as a “white thing.” To this day, statistics on Black suicide rates are easily skewed because their suicides are more likely to be misclassified than that of any other racial group.

The taxation that living in America takes on the mind of Black folks is staggering, and how could it not be? The damage of seeing bodies that look like yours being murdered for the color of their skin every single day is unfathomable. While Robert Fuller’s death was ruled a suicide, it is still America’s burden to carry.

In today’s episode of The Breakdown, Shaun delves into the issues regarding mental health in the Black community by leading a much-needed open and honest discussion.