FAKE NEWS: Lynchings In 2020

I almost didn’t write this one.

It’s not fear of all the hate this’ll drag down on The Not Fake News.  Truth is never popular, less so when it’s truth to power and least of all when that power is the mob, the nameless faceless mass of public opinion.  Telling unpopular truths is what we do here, and it’ll never pay and it’ll never make us beloved.

What almost stopped me is that there are three families out there who don’t need strangers saying their loved one — father, son, husband, brother — killed himself.  They’re going through plenty without this — particularly as some will, inevitably, use it to justify their own foolish biases and hate.

Against that, I see the word “Lynchings” trending on social media.  Every time this meme gets shared, the death of Breonna Taylor fades a bit more into the background, and whatever meaning there is behind all these deaths is lessened thereby.  Myth grows and truth loses value, and some things we very much need to confront head-on get lost in the noise.  To willfully keep silent is itself to make a statement.

That’s more than enough words about me.  Let’s discuss the matter at hand.

WARNING:  Not For The Sensitive


There are a dozen variants of this list that we chased down over the past few days; the above is merely one of the more common.  The following information is (mostly) available from public sources:

  • Titi Gulley — Titi, TeTe, or Otis, we can’t ask about pronouns or preferred names.  This happened in 2019, and it’s been judged suicide.  In any event, while it deserves more attention and perhaps a deeper investigation (the family’s keeping some things private), this name doesn’t belong on our list for the sole reason that it falls outside the time constraints.
  • Tshegofatso Pule — She was eight months pregnant.  Apparently, her boyfriend stabbed her and then hauled her into a tree either post- or peri-mortem.  This is its own major story and it too deserves to be told, but it was in South Africa.  To rob this of its location and proper context cheapens the death even more than it already has been.
  • Unidentified Texas teen — This is a juvenile, so we’re never going to get all the details unless the family releases them or there’s a prosecution.  Every indication thus far is that it’s a suicide, and beyond that we’re leaving it alone out of respect for the family.
  • Unidentified Texas man — We’re informed by the authorities in Houston that this was a Latino male; his family has confirmed that he was suicidal.  This report was traced originally to a HuffPost Tweet; the correction has been reported in multiple outlets, but with very little detail.  There’s one piece about financial hardship, but it’s speculative in nature.
  • Malcolm Harsch — His family has made the fact of his suicide public.  We’re told they were shown a security video that captures the entirety of the event.  Here’s a link to the CNN article on their public statement.
  • Dominique Alexander — City park in New York; here’s the Daily News with the basics.  The personal details aren’t happy ones, and the family has requested privacy.  All I’m comfortable telling you here is that I’m satisfied.  If you look a little, you probably will be too, but that’s your option.
  • Robert Fuller — The last of the seven, and the only one where there’s any doubt from authorities.  The family says he was neither depressed nor suicidal, and due largely to the massive public outcry, police are digging into all the details — the origin of the rope, a full canvass, and the complete GOYAKOD routine (“Get Off Your Ass and Knock On Doors”).  With everyone from the state A.G.’s office to the F.B.I. looking over their shoulders, this is likely to be a very thorough and comprehensive investigation.We know that the rope was secured in the tree (which was described as “easily climbable”) and not on the ground or elsewhere.  The knot was called an “intricate structure”, so it’s not a simple noose; it’s either an amateur or someone working awfully hard to make it look so.  If it was a lynching, someone took some trouble to make certain it didn’t look like one, and the autopsy will certainly reveal any incapacitating injuries or drugs which would be required to hoist the man into the tree.  Barring something unforeseen coming out in the investigation, it’s easy to see why this would be classed as a suicide.

    (Note:  The Fuller investigation is ongoing.  Some of these details were pieced together from at least a dozen different process stories.  The L.A. Times — our primary source — has an excellent series going, but nothing so far has been comprehensive.  -Editor)

I want to be very clear here:  There are seven deaths recorded above.  We at TNFN take none of them lightly.

One was a murder, and in another country.  The other six were probably suicides, and appear to be unrelated.  Note please that the motivation for a traditional lynching is terror, leading to suppression and control; if any of these was a murder, it was sufficiently well concealed that “lynching” is the wrong classification.  We’re left with the investigations (which will be audited) and the uncomfortable thought of suicide.

Suicide is a choice, and not an easy one.  Something apparently drove six people to it.  This isn’t unusual in the United States; our annual rate is up around 50,000 per year, making it one of the most common causes of death in this country.  It strikes Black men as well as white, and disproportionately; suicide is not equal opportunity.

The most common method is the gun, but a lot of people don’t have them, particularly those in straitened circumstances.  Hanging is hardly uncommon.  And, not to put too fine a point on it, there’s a reason trees are used; they’re sturdier than most of the high objects around the average house.  I don’t want to dive into the technicalities, but I’m reliably assured it takes real commitment to go through with a fatal self-hanging while suspended from a doorknob.

If we fail to confront this as suicide, we neglect a very real problem.  And, while I hesitate to use a loaded expression, it’s the only one I can find that conveys the magnitude of the truth here:  Either Black lives matter or they don’t.  Black suicides matter; they’re tragedies that deserve our attention every bit as much as any other death.  Something in each of six lives created a climate of overpowering despair, and we cannot ignore that.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the death of Breonna Taylor was a tragedy that was completely avoidable.  Putting an end to no-knock warrants, at least outside of the most absolutely extreme situations, is a cause most of America should be behind.  It was a drug warrant; we should be asking ourselves if the time has come to end the War On Drugs.  Memes of this nature distract from what should be a potent national dialogue.

Likewise, we also have two black men shot multiple times in the back while fleeing police in the past week.  This is well worth discussing in its proper context, which includes unusually high tensions between police and the public.  We have the death of George Floyd, which has revealed a far-too-powerful police union in Minnesota, an arbitration board which overturns fully half of police discipline cases that reach it, and an administration both powerless and unwilling to attempt control of their officers under an entrenched single-party machine government.

And you might notice I haven’t even touched directly on the subject of systemic racism, about which whole books could be written.  (One common theme would surely be ending the War On Drugs.)

There’s one more unintended consequence of hijacking these deaths:  Nooses.  One was maliciously placed in a NASCAR garage; one was found (yes, with exercise equipment) around Lake Merritt in Oakland.  Surely more will turn up; it’s even possible one or more of the suicides listed here were inspired by news stories inflating the truth.  The worst case scenario would be a potential spree killer picking up on the trend.

We have a lot of problems in our society.  None will be ended unless we address that one specifically, directly, as a nation, fully informed and intent on a solution.  It’s for this reason we need to embrace the full truth in each of these events, be they suicides, police overreach, poorly written laws, political incompetence, or actual White Supremacist racism of a kind most of us would rather had fallen with the Third Reich.

We don’t need one conversation about racism, satisfying though it may be.  We don’t need simple slogans and easy-to remember sound bites.  Real change demands concentrated attention, soul-searching, and an ability to examine, admit, and root out fault wherever it may lie.

We’ll do our part, by doing our best to write and share the truth as best we can — however unpopular it may be.  Will you?

NOTE:  Turns out, apparently nobody placed a noose maliciously in a NASCAR garage.  It had been there for years, and was just a bosun’s hitch on the garage door.  Go figure.  Anyway, even if it turns out there’s nothing more to this story, the insanity accompanying it is yet another unintended consequence.  -Editor

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