5 people of color have died in hangings across country

Authorities are investigating a sudden string of hangings involving black and Hispanic Americans in three states as racial tensions continue to fester in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

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The five separate incidents are also fueling fear and suspicions about the possibility of lynchings, but officials have so far ruled every case a suicide.

Since May 31, four men and a teenage boy have been found dead from hangings in two Southern California cities, Houston and New York.

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In the most recent case, police reported finding a black 17-year-old hanged outside an elementary school Wednesday morning in Houston.

The investigation so far points to suicide, but family members said they were not convinced.

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“Deputies were called to the parking area of a school in the 6600 block of Rosebrook, where a teenage black male was found deceased,” the Harris County Sheriff’s Office confirmed in a statement. “Based on security video, witnesses and other evidence, preliminary indications are the male hanged himself.”

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Two days earlier, Houston police found a Hispanic man hanged outside a store in the community of Shady Acres. In this case, officials said they also found no evidence of foul play. Authorities have not identified the man and are still awaiting autopsy results from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

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U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee told FOX 26 Houston that she "believes there could be more to the story after an eerie pattern of recent suicides where black men were found hanging from trees."

“People are on edge. They are nervous. This is a troubling, a challenging time for us. It is shocking in our community, and no death in that form should go uninvestigated, so it will be my effort since it occurred in the 18th Congressional District so I will make sure it is investigated thoroughly,” she said.

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The mood in the community was also deeply concerned, Fox26 reported.

“We’re talking about multiple people hanging from trees across America in the middle of a race war that’s going,” said resident Anthony Scott, according to the station.

“With everything that’s been transpiring, with all of the hangings that have been taking place within the last two weeks, why wouldn’t you automatically assume foul play? No one is hanging themselves from a tree,” said another man, who didn’t give the station his name.

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Meanwhile in California, federal officials including the FBI, U.S. attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division are investigating the deaths of two black men who were found hanging from trees 10 days apart.

Credit: Malcolm Harsch family, De'Avery Richardson via AP

Credit: Malcolm Harsch family, De'Avery Richardson via AP

Credit: Courtesy of Robert Fuller Family via AP

Credit: Courtesy of Robert Fuller Family via AP

Malcolm Harsch, 38, was found in Victorville on May 31. Robert Fuller, 24, was found 53 miles away, hanged on June 10 at a park near Palmdale City Hall. The families of both men said they were not suicidal and are calling for an independent autopsy.

The community has banded together recently for vigils and protests, while authorities maintain no foul play was found in either case.

Credit: Najee Ali

Credit: Najee Ali

The investigations remain active and officials are awaiting autopsy results, according to reports.

Nearly 3,000 miles away in Manhattan, New York, 27-year-old Dominique Alexander was found hanging from a tree at Fort Tryon Park on June 9. The state medical examiner has ruled his death a suicide.

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Ropes tied into nooses, a terrorizing symbol of lynchings commonly carried out in the Jim Crow era, have been placed anonymously in several places around the country in recent days, according to reports.

Law enforcement in Oakland, California, have opened a hate crime investigation after several nooses have been found hanging from trees throughout the area in recent days. The latest incident happened Thursday when police found a "fake body hanging from a noose," according to KTLA 5 News in Oakland. A passing resident took it down from the tree and called authorities.

There is no federal law against lynching.

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Many voices on social media also speculated whether the recent hangings were more than a coincidence.

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, according to data by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. On average, 132 Americans die by suicide each day. In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide out of 1.4 million attempts, the agency states on its website. The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men, accounting for more than 69% of suicide deaths in 2018. Black and Hispanic men only account for 5% of suicide deaths, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The most common method was by firearm, followed by suffocation and poisoning.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story included the May 2019 death of Titi Gulley, 31, a transgender black woman who was found hanging from a tree in Rocky Butte Park, according to the Portland Mercury. Gulley's death was ruled a suicide before recent events. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution regrets the error.

— To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging 741741.