For at least the fourth time in less than a month, a Black person has been found dead by hanging in the United States, which authorities have once again ruled as a suspected suicide.
The teenager’s death comes shortly after three other men were found dead by hangings that were also initially ruled suicides, which has drawn suspicion from activists amid the ongoing wave of anti-racism demonstrations.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that the victim was found dead in the parking lot of Ehrhardt Elementary School in Spring, Texas, which lies just north of Houston.
“Based on security video, witnesses and other evidence, preliminary indications are the male hanged himself,” the sheriff’s office said on Twitter.
“There are currently no signs of foul play,” it added. An official cause of death has yet to be determined, pending an autopsy.
In California, Malcolm Harsch, a 38-year-old Black man, was found hanging from a tree on May 31 in Victorville. Just 72 kilometres away in Palmdale, the body of 24-year-old Robert Fuller was discovered on June 10, also hanging from a tree.
A day before Fuller was found, Dominique Alexander, 27, was discovered in the same manner in Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan. New York City’s medical examiner’s office concluded Alexander’s death was a suicide on Monday, local media reported.
The families of Fuller and Harsch have disputed officials’ initial findings that foul play was not suspected, prompting the two separate sheriff’s offices to vow to continue their investigations as potential homicides.
The FBI, U.S. attorney’s office in the Central District of California and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division are also monitoring those investigations, authorities said in a statement Monday.
In Fuller’s case, the Los Angeles County’s chief medical examiner-coroner withdrew his initial ruling of suicide, pending the ongoing investigation.
“The initial report appeared to be consistent with a suicide, but we felt it prudent to roll that back and continue to look deeper,” Dr. Jonathan Lucas said Monday at a news conference.
Protesters demonstrating against police violence and the killing of Black Americans such as George Floyd have also taken up Fuller and Harsch’s cases, voicing concerns the two may have been lynched and that authorities have rushed to judgment.
Fuller’s family has insisted that he wasn’t suicidal. Days before he died, he attended a Black Lives Matter protest, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Harsch’s family said in a statement issued Saturday to local media that they were suspicious about a possible suicide ruling “amidst the current racial tension.”
“A Black man hanging himself from a tree definitely doesn’t sit well with us right now,” the family said. “We want justice not comfortable excuses.”
Alexander’s family has told local media that they are grieving his death and had no comment on the medical examiner’s ruling.
— With files from the Associated Press