Robert Fuller, who was found dead hanging from a tree in Palmdale, California. Courtesy of Robert Fuller Family

In the midst of protests against police brutality and systemic racism, two recent deaths have stunned the country. Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch were both found dead in a tree, in isolated incidents almost two weeks apart. 

Across the nation, the death of Robert Fuller, a Black man found hanging from a tree in California, has sent waves of shock and outrage. Fuller’s body was found on Wednesday, but news of his death was soon followed up by news of another; Malcolm Harsch, also hung from a tree in California, almost two weeks prior.

The death of Fuller was ruled as a suicide by the LA county on Friday but that decision has been disputed by Fuller’s family. The family of Harsch is worried that his death, too, will be ruled as suicide. 

What happened?

These deaths come in the midst of protests and conversations about systemic racism and police brutality. The manner of these men’s deaths—hanging on trees—is eerily resemblant of the horrific lynchings of decades past.

A petition demanding a full investigation into Fuller’s death has garnered over 215,000 signatures as of Sunday afternoon. The petition highlights a distrust of local authorities, a sentiment that has been exacerbated by the police and state violence witnessed since the murder of George Floyd.  

At a news conference on Friday for Fuller’s death, one resident said, “Why was it like that? Who would do that? No black man would hang himself in public like that.”

Meanwhile, the sister of Harsch is conducting her own investigation into her brother’s death. “It has been stressful,” she said. “It doesn’t sound right.”

The image of Black bodies hanging in trees is captured eloquently in Billie Holiday’s 1937 song, Strange Fruit, in which she sings, “Southern trees bear a strange fruit Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.” Almost eight decades later, the song is as relevant as ever. 

Yet despite the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, and so many Black people, Congress has still been unable to ratify an anti-lynching bill. The bill, named Emmett Till Antilynching Act, is backed by Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only African-American senators. The bill is being stalled by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who argues that the legislation was drafted too broadly. 

Candy Chan

Candy Chan is studying History with a focus on War and Revolution at Barnard College. She is currently a staff writer at the Columbia Daily Spectator, covering issues pertaining to Columbia's...