Malcolm Harsch and Robert Fuller: A look into two black men's 'suicide' raises some very perplexing questions
According to CDC's National Vital Stats Report, 47,173 people succumbed to suicide or intentional harm in 2017, of which only 630 were black males
Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and of course, George Floyd. These are some of the many names that have come to the fore as millions have taken to the streets to protest police brutality, systemic discrimination and racial inequality. But this week, the similarity between two new deaths that one community in California wants everyone to hear about is that of Malcolm Harsch and Robert Fuller.
Harsch, 38, was discovered hanging from a tree near 7th Street and Zenda Street in Victorville shortly after 7 am on May 31. While officials did not rule it a suicide, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said, "There were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play."
Fuller, 24, was found by a passerby at around 3:39 am on Wednesday, June 10, near Palmdale City Hall in Poncitlán Square, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Reports state that this location is just one hour away from where Harsch was found hanging a little under two weeks ago.
The clamor surrounding Harsch and Fuller's death only grew further following reports that another African-American man went missing just an hour away from where the pair were found hanging. Christopher Booker, 35, was last seen on June 9 at approximately 3:30 pm, with his vehicle abandoned, parked in front of the Sky Forest Inn in Sky Forest, California.
If it is revealed that Booker killed himself as well, the odds for such a scenario would be astronomical.
According to the CDC's National Vital Statistics Report, 47,173 people succumbed to suicide or intentional harm in 2017, of which just 630 were black males. Add into the mix that both Fuller and Harsch committed suicide publicly, and it seems even more implausible since it carries such a stigma around it.
The US has a long history of lynchings against African-American men, starting from after the American Civil War during Reconstruction and the Great Migration of blacks out of the South in the 20th century to the Jim Crow-era of Black Codes. Then there's the fact that the entire country is currently vigorously protesting the Memorial Day death of Floyd, which, to many, is the modern embodiment of lynching. It's a call for justice that has been heard from people not just in the 50 states but around the world and is now being described as the largest civil rights movement in human history.
The families of both Harsch and Fuller have also maintained that "the pair were not the type to take their lives".
Harsch's family said they had been informed of several inconsistencies that could indicate there was more to his death. "We were told that his 6 foot 3 inches long body wasn’t even dangling from the tree," they told Victor Valley News in a statement.
"There was blood on his shirt but there didn’t appear to be any physical implications at the scene to suggest that there was a struggle or any visible open wounds at that time. His body sat at the San Bernardino County Coroner's office for 12 days before an autopsy was performed," the family said.
"Malcolm had very recent conversations with his children about seeing them soon," they continued. "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 explanation of suicide does not seem plausible."
The Fuller family has also raised similar concerns over his "suicide".
An initial autopsy report listed suicide as the cause of death, with city officials claiming "he had killed himself over the emotional despair caused by the coronavirus pandemic" and that many were suffering "extreme mental anguish" during these trying times.
Lt. Brandon Dean of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau, who is supervising the investigation into Fuller’s death, similarly told the Daily Beast that Fuller's body had no defensive wounds or signs of a physical assault. He insisted there was "nothing that would indicate he was put up there against his will" and that "the rope wasn’t thrown over but tied to the branch, which means somebody had to get up there and tie it."
However, residents were vehement that suicide was not possible as Fuller had marched in a Black Lives Matter protest shortly before he was found dead. They pointed out that a coroner had also initially ruled that George Floyd's death was caused by a combination of heart disease and "potential intoxicants in his system".
They demanded that Palmdale City officials check surveillance footage from the area where Fuller was found dead, something Dean said wasn't possible because there were no cameras around the city hall.
There have since been questions on how there could be no video evidence considering it happened in front of such a landmark, with a friend of Fuller's telling a local radio show that officials are "trying to cover it up as a suicide."
It is still unclear where authorities stand on Harsch's death, but Dean said they were waiting on toxicology results to reveal further insight into Fuller's death. "If the toxicology results were to show a high level of a chemical that might have poisoned him or knocked him unconscious and allowed someone to drag him up there, it would give a new direction to the case," Dean stated.