On the morning of June 10, at 3:39 AM, 24-year old Robert Leroy Fuller Jr., was discovered hanging from a tree-branch in Poncitlán Square, a park near Palmdale City Hall in the Antelope Valley of Northern Los Angeles County, approximately 66 miles from Downtown Los Angeles.
An initial media report from the Antelope Valley Press said that “a man was found hanged,” effectively erasing Robert’s identity as a young Black man, and the social context of an oppressive society with a long history of racist violence against Black people which manifested in the hanging of Black people, in other words, lynching. Individual social media accounts revealed on June 11 that Fuller’s body was found hanging from a tree in an obscure, unmonitored section of the park.
Given the dubious nature surrounding the discovery of Fuller’s body, the Palmdale community, on the morning of June 12, came out to voice their concerns about the statement released by the Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s Homicide Bureau and Coroner’s Office. The statement declared, without the completion of a full autopsy, “Although the investigation is still ongoing, it appears Mr. Fuller tragically committed suicide.”
The city officials and the local media essentially jumped at the opportunity to manipulate the narrative by publically announcing the death as a suicide without empirical evidence. Surprisingly, despite Poncitlán Square Park encompassing the City Hall, a fire station, the Chamber of Commerce, and multiple businesses, the Sheriff’s department stated that no single camera in the area captured what happened early morning on June 10.
A gathering of over 100 community members, former classmates, friends and cousins memorialized the tree where Fuller’s body was found, placing a teddy bear against the tree that said “Long Live Robert [heart] always.” A sea of flowers, notes and lit candles also filled the shrine for the lost youth.
One community member said, “We have our own George Floyd right now, and it’s up to us to decide what we do about it.” She then pointed to the United States flag raised in the park, only 50 feet from the tree, and asked, “[Are] you going to tell me this was not staged as a statement?”
The sentiment in the community was one of skepticism about the official narratives of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and media. A Black man hanging on a tree in a public park reminded this community of the weight of countless lynchings of Black people in the United States. To many community members, the sudden, random and public death of Robert Fuller with no suicide note or apparent suicidal behavior, was a clear sign that foul play – a lynching in particular – had occurred.
Joshua Summerville, a friend of Fuller, told Liberation News, “How are we supposed to feel when we see this?” He continued, “For them to dismiss it and say that it’s a suicide, before y’all even get a proper autopsy, y’all trying to shut us up. Y’all ain’t gonna just shut us up.”
The City Manager J.J. Murphy alleged in a Valley Press article that Fuller’s death may be the latest in a string of 15 suicides in the city of Palmdale this year, resulting from the nationwide mental health impacts of COVID-19.
City Manager Murphy walked over to the gathering of community members, where he stated Fuller’s death is, “still under investigation.”
A member of the community asked, “Then why did you and the Sheriff’s Department already declare it a suicide?” Murphy, adamant, continued with his unsubstantiated theory that Fuller’s death was only the most recent of Palmdale’s suicides.
After Murphy walked away, a group marched over to the Palmdale Sheriff’s Department Station, chanting, “No Justice, No Peace!” and, “Say his name, Robert Fuller!”
Captain Ronald Schaffer addressed the community next, but his statements echoed that of City Manager Murphy and the initial press release. Dissatisfied, protesters marched back to the park where they were joined by a crowd larger than before.
Carrie, a community member, told Liberation News outside the Sheriff Station, “We just want justice and equality, we’re not treated fairly. It’s our sons, our nephews, man, we’re just tired. Not being able to breathe every time we come into contact with the police. They treat us like animals and we’re tired of it. We want justice and we want peace, and we won’t stop until we get justice.”
A few of Fuller’s cousins, including Debra Lemle, arrived later in the afternoon trying to get answers about how her beloved baby cousin had died. When Debra was asked if she believes the official report about Robert committing suicide, she said, “No, I don’t believe it at all.” (Spectrum News 1, June 12, 2020)
The consciousness in the community of Palmdale has been raised by the nationwide uprising against white supremacist police and vigilante violence in the recent weeks by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and a number of other police murders across the country. But the death of Robert Fuller has only amplified this consciousness in the face of unanswered questions and, so far, the mishandling of an investigation.
When media reports the law enforcement narrative as truth, a Black man’s death by public hanging can be covered up as a suicide without evidence, even with the backdrop of a national uprising against police and white supremacist terror.
Robert Fuller was described as a sweetheart, a funny person, and always smiling. He was truly loved by his community, and the community of Palmdale won’t rest until the suspicious death is solved.
A GoFundMe was started by his sister, and you can find the link here.
In the days since the protests erupted in Palmdale in response to Fuller’s death and the pushing of the suicide narrative, both the FBI Civil Rights Division and the California Attorney General’s Office will review the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigation. On June 16, Coroner Jonathan Lucas also walked back his initial ruling of suicide. These moves are concessions to the nationwide revolt against racism.
The PSL stands in solidarity with the family and friends of Robert Fuller, and the community of Palmdale in their struggle to demand justice and a full investigation into the death of Robert L. Fuller Jr.
Justice for Robert Fuller! Stop the War on Black America!