Police Say Deaths of Black People by Hanging are Suicides. Many Black People aren’t so Sure.Roundup
tags: racism, violence, African American history, lynching
Stacey Patton is the author of Spare The Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America and the forthcoming Strung Up: The Lynching of Black Children and Teenagers in America, 1880-1968.
The historical seasons have changed, and once again, America’s trees are bearing a strange and bitter fruit — dead black bodies.
In less than one month, six black people have been found hanging from trees, in California, Georgia, New York, Oregon and Texas. Authorities say that all of these deaths appear to be suicides, with no signs of foul play. But family members of the deceased, protesters and activists, and some scholars of anti-black violence are intuitively suspicious about those conclusions. Rumors are also swirling on social media that these deaths are lynchings, with Twitter users saying things like: “With sound body and mind, I’m here to tell you right now, if my body is found hanging from a tree, I did NOT commit suicide, I was murdered.”
These incidents are happening at a time of nationwide racial upheaval — when people are already on edge and suspicious about police accounts of their encounters with black people. Tree hangings evoke traumatic memories of America’s grisly history of unpunished lynchings of thousands of black adults and children between 1880 and 1968.
Black people do commit suicide, of course, though the rate is 60 percent lower than for whites, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In black American culture, suicide is widely regarded as a shameful act; when it happens, it’s generally private, and hanging is not a preferred method.
“It is very uncommon for young black men to commit suicide, let alone by hanging,” says Raymond Winbush, a psychologist since 1976 who has treated hundreds of black men and boys and is the director of Morgan State University’s Institute for Urban Research. The American Association of Suicidology reports that firearms are the predominant method of suicide among African Americans (as they are for the nation overall), regardless of sex or age, followed by suffocation by plastic bags or gas inhalation.
So it is quite difficult for many black folks to believe that within a matter of weeks, six black people chose to hang themselves by the neck, in public, from trees, while the fire of racial politics continues to blaze.
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