“Although lynchings have steadily increased in number and barbarity during the last twenty years, there has been no single effort put forth by the many moral and philanthropic forces of the country to put a stop to this wholesale slaughter.” – Ida B. Wells
- Malcolm Harsch in Victorville, California, on May 31.
- Dominique Alexander in New York City on June 9.
- Robert Fuller in Palmdale, California, on June 12.
What might be an explanation for this sudden rash of alleged “suicides”?
Dr. Troy Duster, Chancellor’s Professor in the UC Berkeley Sociology Department, shared his thoughts:
My grandmother had some answers. She did painstaking research and published The Red Record, the first document to chronicle the full range of lynchings across America. It took a full century, but Ida B. Wells was recently awarded a Pulitzer Prize, posthumously of course, for her pioneering investigative reporting. Now here in the spring of 2020, we have five men swinging from trees, “strange fruit” memorialized by Billie Holiday eighty years ago.
The history of lynching in the United States was never about “a few bad apples”. Following the Tilden-Hayes compromise of 1877, northern troops pulled out of the South, and the decade-long period we call Reconstruction ended. Southern whites passed draconian laws banning Blacks from voting and then denied equal access to educational institutions and public accommodations.
In order to fully “enforce” these laws, the Ku Klux Klan was founded. Across the South, the whole region pursued a strategy of systematic terrorism, of which lynching Blacks was the literal lynchpin. This was never about “rogue policing”—it was about state-sanctioned terrorism. White citizens and their children even gathered to picnic and take pictures at a lynching. Now we have people who see “good people on both sides”.
In the autobiography of Ida B. Wells, there is a strong hint as to what she would recommend: four integrated strategies: first, call out and name it as terrorism, second, identify, sanction and boycott Vichy collaborators; third, register and vote, and finally (she packed a pistol when enemies put a target on her back) when all else fails, arm to the teeth!!
More Details Compiled by EJS Staff
All three Black men were found dead, hanging from trees. Local law enforcement initially determined and announced to the public that the deaths were suicides. The families of the victims rejected this.
“The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible,” Mr. Harsch’s family said in a statement. “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 family said.
During the memorial for Mr. Fuller on June 14, his sister Diamond Alexander echoed the same sentiments: “We want to find out the truth on what really happened. Everything they told us is not right. We just want the truth. My brother was not suicidal. He was a survivor. He was street smart.”
Communities in Victorville and Palmdale protested in support of the families and amplified their demands for independent investigations and transparency in the process.
This pressure led first, in the California cases, to expanded local investigation. Then California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on June 15 that state Justice Department will send officers to Palmdale to do their own investigation. The FBI in Los Angeles said federal review is underway of the Palmdale and Victorville deaths.
Emily Elena Dugdale of KPCC reported that the community is “very aware of the well-documented history of neo-Nazi groups in the region.” NPR reports that “Neo-Nazi groups have been reported in the area. There have also been Justice Department actions over alleged discriminatory housing and policing practices in Palmdale and the neighboring city of Lancaster.”
An unidentified Latino man in Houston, Texas, was found hanged on June 15. Another unidentified man, reported as being from Kansas, was found hanged in Barstow, California, just 30 miles from Victorville, the same day.
Please sign this petition demanding a more thorough and transparent investigation by local law enforcement into Mr. Fuller’s death. Support these families and community protesters to keep the pressure on law enforcement, including independent outside investigators, by contacting your elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels.