(Reuters) – Police in California on Friday said a young black man found hanging from a tree likely committed suicide, stirring outrage among community members who said authorities were too quick to draw conclusions about what could have been a hate crime.
The reaction to the death of 24-year-old Robert Fuller showed how high tensions around race and policing are running in the United States after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) was still investigating the death of Fuller, who was found by a passerby hanging from a tree a block from the city hall in Palmdale, around 30 miles north of Los Angeles, at about 3:40 a.m. on Wednesday.
Captain Ron Shaffer told a televised community meeting on Friday that it appeared Fuller “died by suicide.”
That comment drew an angry response and chants of “speak the truth” and “no peace,” with audience members demanding to know why LASD called it a suicide when the coroner’s report said the case had been “deferred pending additional investigation.”
On social media, the hashtag #JusticeforRobertFuller trended on Twitter with users calling for a full investigation of what some speculated was a cover-up of a lynching.
Palmdale City Manager JJ Murphy said in a statement on Thursday he received confirmation Fuller’s death was a suicide. He did not give details, but said many people in the community were “suffering extreme mental anguish” during the coronavirus pandemic.
A GoFundMe page set up by Fuller’s family to cover funeral expenses had raised more than $110,000 by Friday afternoon. A message on it read “Thank you for standing with us during this difficult time.”
Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis