we need to talk about suicide and lynchings.

thursday June 18th 2020

Last night the news hit that a Black Teen was found hanged in a car park outside an Elementary School in Texas, just north of Houston. This was the fourth incident of a Black man in America, being found hanged in less than a month, with Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch in California and Dominique Alexander in New York. 


According to news reports, the preliminary investigations into what happened are suggesting suicide in the teen’s case. However, the families of these men are calling for a thorough investigation and it’s difficult to not feel that these incidents could very much be racially motivated and seen as lynchings. 


Robert Fuller’s family have expressed that Fuller was not suicidal and Harsch’s family told local media, “A Black man hanging himself from a tree definitely doesn’t sit well with us right now, we want justice not comfortable excuses.” In Fuller’s case, the Los Angeles County’s chief medical examiner-coroner withdrew his initial ruling of suicide, pending a now ongoing investigation by the FBI.


It is a common rhetoric to hear that suicide is “a White people thing” and honestly this narrative is not unfounded. White people in America have a rate of 18: 100,000 people who commit suicide, as opposed to Black people who have a rate of 5 : 100,000. Following the suspicious suicide of Sandra Bland whilst in Police custody in 2015, a research professor of Epidemiology and African American studies at Emory University, Dr Sherman James, told The Guardian, “I think that African Americans, more so than a lot of other groups, certainly more than whites, are socialised to expect that life will disappoint them,” 


In addition to these hangings, there have also been a couple of other disturbing events that have contributed to the skepticism surrounding these incidents being classed simply as suicide. A memorial in Kansas for a Black lynching victim, Levi Harrington, has been vandalised and in Oakland California, authorities are investigating nooses hanging from trees in a popular park. 


And if that wasn’t enough, this week a new report from the Equal Justice Initiative has revealed that at least 2000 more Black people were lynched between 1865 and 1950 than originally recorded. The report said “Emboldened Confederate veterans and former enslavers organised a reign of terror that effectively nullified constitutional amendments designed to provide Black people with equal protection and the right to vote.” It also stated that its likely the true number of these horrific crimes may never be known.


However, whilst we address how suspicious this all is, it is not to say that suicide should be ruled out of the equation. There has been considerable evidence that shows racism is linked to both suicidal thoughts and attempts, particularly in Black men. We can’t ignore that given the raised tensions and spotlight on this issue at the moment, the importance of mental health is paramount and all of this can have an effect on Black men and women that us as, White people can never understand.


But whilst we do acknowledge suicide is a possibility, all the information presented above is exactly why every one of these men deserves to have their deaths investigated fully and not just palmed off with the most reasonable excuse. Whichever way you put it, four Black men found hanged in less than a month does not add up, and there has to be answers. 


For more information into the research around suicide and lynching in the Black community refer to; 

“It’s a White thing” written by  Early KE, Akers RL 

“Black Suicide: Lynching by Any Other Name” written by Wright BE

Suicidal Behaviors in the African American Community by The Journal of Black Psychology

NAACP History of Lynching

Reconstruction In America - Racial Violence After The Civil War - Equal Justice Initiative