VICTORVILLE – The hanging death of a black man in Victorville has sparked community outrage about larger racial issues in the high desert city and calls for a full investigation into whether Malcolm Harsch was the victim of foul play.
Harsch was found hanging from a tree on the morning of May 31 near the city’s library. Authorities have said there is no evidence of foul play, but the man’s family and others are skeptical and are demanding an independent investigation.
About 200 people turned out for a peaceful demonstration Tuesday afternoon in Victorville, calling for police accountability and the further investigation into Harsch’s death.
Demonstrators marched on the sidewalk along Civic Drive, holding signs that read “Defund the Police” and “Is My Son Next?” They chanted, “No justice, no peace,” as cars drove by and honked.
Stevevonna Evans, 36, an organizer of a protest, said the group was calling for a transparent and independent investigation into the hanging death – the second of a black man in two weeks – and also would like the California attorney general to supervise the investigations.
“Unfortunately, we can’t leave this in the hands of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department,” Evans said. “We’re getting conflicting stories with what they’re saying took place and what witnesses say took place.”
Some demonstrators used chalk to write on the sidewalk the names of people killed by police, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. They also wrote “Defund, Demilitarize, Deescalate.”
Standing nearby were deputies with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which the city contracts for policing services.
The protest, organized by the grassroots group For the People, comes after the hanging deaths of Harsch, 38, and, in Palmdale, 24-year-old Robert Fuller.
After questions and protests, the FBI announced Monday it would examine both cases.
The Victorville Fire Department found Harsch’s body May 31 after receiving a dispatch call around 7 a.m., officials said.
On Monday, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department offered more details about what happened, saying deputies were called to a homeless encampment regarding Harsch.
“The caller said she and (her) boyfriend, later identified as Malcolm Harsch, had been together during the morning, but she had since returned to her tent for a short period of time. She was alerted by others in the encampment that Mr. Harsch was found hanging from a tree and cut down. People in the encampment were performing CPR, attempting to revive Mr. Harsch,” the statement said.
“Upon arrival, deputies immediately took over and continued CPR. Emergency medical personnel arrived on scene a short time later, and despite additional lifesaving efforts, pronounced Mr. Harsch deceased,” officials added.
An autopsy was conducted, and officials said they saw no signs of foul play. But the investigation continues with help from the FBI.
In a statement sent to the Victor Valley News, Harsch’s family members in Ohio said they found it hard to accept that his death was a suicide. They said Harsch had recent conversations with his children about seeing them soon and that, to those who knew him, he didn’t seem to be depressed.
“The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible,” the family wrote. “There are many ways to die, but considering the current racial tension, a Black man hanging himself from a tree definitely doesn’t sit well with us right now.
“We want justice, not comfortable excuses,” they wrote.
During the demonstration outside Victorville City Hall, some protesters waited to address the City Council, which was holding its scheduled meeting.