Six Black people (four men, one woman, and a teenaged boy) have been found hanging from trees in five states (California, New York, Oregon, Georgia, and Texas) in recent weeks. All of the trees were in public. They’ve all been ruled suicides. There has been sporadic and lackluster coverage of this, for lack of a better word, pattern. I won’t call them events because that would equate them with spectacle and I refuse to use this as entertainment. The word I will use is lynching. Let’s be clear, the strong likelihood is that all of these people were lynched.
Lynching evokes disturbing images and feelings of revulsion. The history of public lynchings as entertainment is well-known. Many more recent lynchings took place in the dark of night because the night provides a cloak for despicable actions and despicable thoughts. Lynchings are, most often, acts of vigilante justice, of ordinary citizens meting out a “punishment” for alleged crimes or for simply being not white. And, as historians can tell us, there is a history of lynchings being ruled as suicides to cover up the reality of murder.
So, what Black person is likely to commit suicide by hanging himself from a tree in public knowing full well the implications of such a thing? Making their own bodies monuments to the horrible institutions that used to rule our country is antithetical to everything they believe.
There are so many unanswered questions. Where is the outrage? Where are the people screaming for justice? The celebrities calling for investigations? There are voices out there. I’ve seen them. But, what’s stopping more vociferous objections to these alleged suicides? Is it that they seem to be unrelated? Or is it that we don’t have enough video evidence of exactly what happened? Do we need a snuff film to feel outraged enough to make a fuss?
The Washington Post, along with some other national and local news outlets, have delved into some of this, but the biggest issue seems to be that the media doesn’t know exactly how to approach these deaths. The facts, at the moment, are clearly murky. But, much like we teach our kids to figure out the meanings of words using context clues, we can look at history to give us context for questioning the official rulings. We may not be able to definitively know these were lynchings, but historical context gives us more than enough reason call and scream for, further investigation. After all, Ahmaud Arbery’s murder was in February and the evidence didn’t materialize until much later. The case was reopened because people refused to be quiet.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the outrage that has sparked ongoing Black Lives Matter protests around the world, there have been many difficult, but productive conversations and extremely necessary changes.
We all want to believe that things are moving forward, especially white people who support the Black Lives Matter statement and continue to educate themselves on how to be anti-racist. Hopefulness is a good thing. It can keep us from wallowing in misery. Hope and belief can spur change. But, we have to face the facts that all of this “good trouble” as Civil Rights icon and current U.S. Congressman John Lewis calls it, has also fomented the hatred of those who have chosen the side of bigotry and racism. Those people are angrier than ever, and the fact that all of this is happening during a pandemic that is unlike anything we in the U.S. have experienced in our lifetimes, doesn’t help. Emotions are on overdrive.
But, just because some of the immediate anger has died down and most of the protests are now non-violent, doesn’t mean the work is done. Say their names.
Robert Fuller, 24, of Palmdale, CA
Malcolm Harsch, 28, of Victorville, CA
Dominique Alexander, 27, Bronx, New York City, NY
Otis/Titi Gulley, 31, Portland, OR (Otis was known as Titi and presented as a woman for most of her life)
Jane Doe, of South Fulton, GA
African-American teenager, Spring, TX
All of us, but especially white people like me, have to keep talking about it and keep working to be anti-racist. Remember that it’s on all of our shoulders to force the necessary changes to our unequal system.