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Antelope Valley community calls for justice after deaths of Robert Fuller and other Black men

 Demonstrators hold Black Lives Matter signs in Lancaster
Demonstrators in Lancaster on Thursday call for justice and transparency in the investigations of the deaths of Robert Fuller and Michael Thomas.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Dozens of community leaders, activists and residents gathered in Lancaster Thursday, calling for justice in the deaths of Robert Fuller and another man who was fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies during an encounter last week.

Fuller, a 24-year-old Black man, was found June 10 hanging from a tree near City Hall in neighboring Palmdale. Authorities quickly labelled his death a likely suicide, angering family and friends who demanded a full investigation.

Michael Thomas was fatally shot by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who arrived at his home in Lancaster a week ago in response to a report of domestic violence. His family has questioned whether the killing was justified.

Both deaths come as protests have swept the United States over police brutality, use of excessive force and other issues of racial injustice highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd.

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VIDEO | 09:30
As suicide rate rises among Black youths, Robert Fuller’s death prompts much-needed discussion

On June 10, Robert Fuller’s body was found hanging from a tree outside Palmdale City Hall. His death came in the middle of the George Floyd protests and a week after Malcolm Harsch, another Black man, was found hanging from a tree in Victorville, less than 50 miles away. Their deaths shed light on the concerning rise in suicides among Black Americans.

Authorities are also looking into the death of Black man in Victorville that has sparked community outrage. Malcolm Harsch, 38, was found hanging from a tree May 31 near the city’s library. Authorities have said there is no evidence of foul play, but family members called for an independent investigation.

On Wednesday, Terron Boone, 31, Fuller’s half brother, was killed by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies investigating allegations that he assaulted and threatened a former girlfriend.

The Lancaster group showed up at Mediterranean Plaza, outside the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, holding signs saying “Justice for Robert Fuller” and “Black Lives Matter.”

“We’re all gathered here on one accord to remind the world, to remind our community, to remind the power structure that Black lives matter,” said Rev. V. Jesse Smith, a pastor and also a planning commissioner in Palmdale. "... Today we come together to really just provide demands to our city. We believe that there’s some major, major, major issues in our city that have to be addressed, and the death of these two brothers, Robert Fuller and Michael Thomas, speaks volumes in terms of what we have to do in our community and how the power structure has to respond to members in our community.”

Smith called for “transparent” investigations of the deaths of Fuller and Thomas.

Smith went on to thank the city of Palmdale for rescinding its statement that called Fuller’s death a suicide and Barger for sending the state attorney general a letter demanding an independent investigation.

Arthur Calloway, of the Antelope Valley Black Chamber of Commerce, told the crowd that among the community’s demands is the abolishment of qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement officers from lawsuits for actions conducted in their official capacity.

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“We do need the abolishment of qualified immunity because in order for us to hold anyone accountable, they have to be able to be punished,” he said.

The crowd clapped, and a woman yelled “Black Lives Matter!”

Nigel Holly, a community activist, addressed the crowd saying, “Martin Luther King said every generation must fight. So though we may get weary, we must continue to fight because this has not changed. We must stand on what our principles are. We must stand for equality. We must stand for justice, and we must hold those accountable that say that Black lives don’t matter, however they protest against it.”


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