Recent Hangings Evoke Painful Memories of Lynchings and Racist Violence

Nicole Rojas
Jun 26, 2020 - 10:00

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The country has seen a shocking number of hangings around the nation that have evoked painful memories of a time filled with the lynchings of Black Americans. All of the cases, which have spanned from the East Coast to the West Coast, have been ruled suicides by police, but some families are fighting back. 

There have been more than five hangings of Black and Hispanic men and boys in the last two months. A Hispanic man, who was not identified, was found dead in Houston of an apparent suicide on June 15. Another man, who was also not identified, was discovered hanging in the woods in Huntington, New York. In both cases, families confirmed that the deaths were suicide or that the victims were suicidal. 

The case of a transgender Black woman, who died in May 2019, has also received renewed interest. The case remains closed but thousands have demanded justice.

The North Star has put together a list of the victims and where their cases stand. 

Robert Fuller, 24

Robert Fuller, who was Black, was discovered hanging from a tree near City Hall in Palmdale, California. Following an autopsy, the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner’s office said Fuller appeared to have died by suicide, The Associated Press (AP) reported. 

However, Fuller’s family was quick to refute that narrative and demand an independent investigation and autopsy. His family said they did not believe the 24-year-old was suicidal and insisted the death be investigated as a homicide, according to The Los Angeles Times

The city joined the family and civic leaders in calling for a thorough investigation and at least a 1,000 gathered for a protest and memorial at the site where Fuller’s body was found. 

“This is really crazy to all of us,” Fuller’s sister Diamond Alexander told The Los Angeles Times. “We want to find out the truth of what really happened. Everything that they’ve been telling us has not been right.” 

She added: “To be here, staring at this tree, it don’t make no sense. My brother was not suicidal. My brother was a survivor.” 

Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the chief medical examiner, told the AP that his office is waiting for the toxicology results. The inquiry into Fuller’s death is being monitored by the FBI and the state’s attorney general’s office. 

Malcolm Harsch, 38

Malcolm Harsch, who was Black, was found dead in Victorville, California, on May 31. A woman, who identified herself as Harsch’s girlfriend, told police that she was alerted by others in their homeless encampment that Harsch was found hanging from a tree and cut down. 

People from the encampment, as well as sheriff’s deputies, attempted to revive Harsch by performing CPR, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department stated. Despite these efforts, Harsch was pronounced dead. An autopsy performed on June 12 showed no signs of foul play, authorities said. 

Harsch’s case was reviewed by the FBI and the Department of Justice after Robert Fuller was found dead. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said that police reviewed surveillance footage from a vacant building near where Harsch’s body was found and “confirmed the absence of foul play.” 

Harsch’s family later released a statement that confirmed his death was a suicide. “After reviewing the site and actual video footage with detectives, it is with a heavy heart that we now know the cause and manner of death,” his family said, according to The Associated Press

“We urge you all to continue your efforts concerning the hanging deaths of African Americans. If you or someone you know may be suicidal please seek help,” the statement added.  

Unnamed Teen, 16

A Black teenager was found dead of an apparent suicide in Spring, Texas, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said. The boy, who was not identified, was found in a corner of the Ehrhardt Elementary School property. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities determined that the death was a suicide after reviewing surveillance footage, speaking to neighbors and other evidence, according to KHOU. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said that the teen had a history of suicide attempts. 

Dominique Alexander, 27

Dominique Alexander, who was Black, was found hanging from a tree in Fort Tryon Park in New York City on June 9. According to Gothamist, the city’s medical examiner ruled Alexander’s cause of death was a “suicide by hanging.” 

On June 17, the NYPD told Gothamist that the investigation into Alexander’s death “continues.” 

Alexander’s brother, Keats Alexander, told The New York Daily News, “We are just trying to grieve. He was definitely loved by his family and his community. It’s just so much.” 

TeTe Gulley, 31

The death of TeTe Gulley, a Black transgender woman, in May 2019 is regaining attention in light of the series of other deaths by hanging. Gulley was found dead in Rocky Butte Park near a homeless campsite in Portland, Oregon on May 27, 2019. Her death was ruled a suicide at the scene by the Oregon Medical Examiner’s Office, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported. 

However, the medical examiner’s determination has been questioned by Gulley’s family and friends, who suspect she was the victim of foul play. 

According to Out, Gulley’s family said authorities failed to investigate claims that Gulley was murdered by a homeless man with whom she was having a “clandestine sexual relationship.” After Gulley’s death, her family received Facebook messages that claimed a man known as “Trigger” had murdered her and that there was video of the murder.

Authorities launched an investigation into the death after local media reported that Gulley’s family spoke to potential witnesses about a video of the death. 

Gulley’s sister, Crystal Gulley, told OPB that her sibling was not suicidal and was not the type of person to harm themselves. The family added they were not allowed to see Gulley for more than a week after her death. 

Gulley’s case is currently closed but a Change.org petition demanding justice for TeTe has garnered more than 683,000 signatures. 

Resources For Those Struggling

  • The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which aims to break the stigma of mental health issues within the Black community, has a directory of mental health providers and programs that serve the Black community. You can visit the foundation’s resource guide here.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) a number of resources for people struggling with mental health issues. NAMI has a helpline that’s available Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST for mental health resources at 800-950-NAMI (6264). 
  • The Trevor Project has a dedicated hotline with trained counselors to support the LGBTQ+ community. If you a young person who finds themselves in crisis, are feeling suicidal or need a safe and judgment-free place to talk, the TrevorLifeline can be reached at 1-866-488-7386. 

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

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