The details of Terron Jammal Boone’s death, at least according to news reports, are unfortunate, but fairly uncomplicated.
Boone, according to The Associated Press, had kept his girlfriend captive in a Palmdale, California, apartment between June 9 and June 15, physically abusing her. She escaped and called 911.
Prosecutors filed 13 counts against him, the AP reported. On Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles County deputies tracing Boone followed a blue SUV he was riding in, driven by a former girlfriend of Boone and that woman’s 7-year-old child.
When the SUV reached an apartment complex in Rosamond, California, a desert town in Kern County, north of Los Angeles County, deputies attempted a traffic stop, the Times reported. Boone got out of the SUV’s passenger door with a handgun and fired at least five rounds at deputies, the Times reported. Three detectives fired back, striking Boone multiple times in the chest, according to the Times.
No alternative explanation has been offered for Boone’s death. This isn’t a shooting that’s in dispute. Except for the sordid criminal details of the matter — the girlfriend being held captive for nearly a week, a 7-year-old child being in the vehicle when Boone opened fire on deputies — there isn’t any particular reason his death should be of national interest.
There was, however, one particular angle that the media fixated upon in the case:
Boone, 31, was the half-brother of Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old man whose death caused national headlines because of the fact he was found hanged in front of Palmdale City Hall on June 10. A preliminary autopsy the following day returned a finding of suicide. There was no evidence of foul play at the scene, the AP reported.
Fuller’s family members, meanwhile, contended the coroner’s office had reached a cause of death too quickly, according to the AP. After protests, the Los Angeles Times reported, “sheriff’s officials said they would do a full investigation, with assistance from the FBI and state attorney general.”
Fuller’s death made national headlines not just because of a protest and memorial that drew 1,000 demonstrators to the tree where he died, or because it is still under investigation, or because of the fact that Fuller himself had attended a Black Lives Matter protest days before. There was also the hanging of another black man in a Victorville, California, homeless encampment nearby.
According to another Associated Press report, video conclusively proved the other man, Malcolm Harsch, had hanged himself. Authorities say he had been on suicide watch twice while in custody after recent arrests, the AP reported, and had recently broken up with his girlfriend.
These events, however, materially had no effect on the death of Terron Jammal Boone or the circumstances surrounding it.
They don’t put into dispute the allegation that Boone shot at least five times at deputies before he himself was shot. There isn’t anything about Fuller’s death that affects why Boone was being pursued in the first place — the alleged imprisonment and abuse of his girlfriend.
In short, the deaths have nothing to do with each other.
That, one would assume, might make headlines like the AP’s feel misleading. The thing is that the AP was hardly alone in how it presented the story.
Time: “LA Sheriff’s Deputies Kill Half-Brother of Robert Fuller, Black Man Found Hanging in California Park.”
NPR: “Sheriff’s Deputies Shoot And Kill Half Brother Of Man Found Hanging In California.”
The U.K. Guardian: “California: half-brother of black man found hanged killed in police shooting.”
Refinery29: “Police Shot & Killed The Brother Of Robert Fuller, Who Was Found Dead Hanging In A Tree.”
Herald Mail Media: “A search for answers after deputies kill brother of black man found hanging from tree.”
These headlines heavily imply what they don’t outright state: That the death of Terron Boone had a connection to Fuller’s death beyond the men’s kinship.
Deputies kill half-brother of black man found hanged in park https://t.co/8k2grApsVF
— CBS News (@CBSNews) June 18, 2020
It’s true that there is still some uncertainty surrounding Robert Fuller’s death, even if authorities say they walked back the initial ruling of suicide because they “felt better that we should look into it a little bit more deeply and carefully, just considering all the circumstances at play,” as Los Angeles County chief medical examiner-coroner Jonathan Lucas put it, according to Los Angeles Magazine.
There’s no evidence yet, however, that we’re dealing with a lynching.
Beyond that, it’s misleading to make Boone’s familial relationship to Fuller the major point in a headline about his death.
All of these headlines omit the fact that Boone was killed in a shootout — as in, he initiated fire with law enforcement and was killed by return fire. No one has brought forth the slightest piece of evidence that the shooting wasn’t justified. The fact that he should have been charged for the crimes he allegedly perpetrated on his girlfriend is entirely unchallenged. Why, then, was the death of his brother just as important as the fact he shot at police?
There’s another similarity between these pieces, too: Only half of these six stories mention the fact that Boone allegedly fired upon deputies in the first paragraph. (The NPR story, which I counted as not mentioning it, states there was “an interaction with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies” — which could be considered the broadest possible euphemism for a gunfight.)
If you’re the type of person who just glances at the headline and the first paragraph, it’s easy to come away with the impression that just days after his brother was lynched, Boone was shot dead in contested circumstances. Neither of these things is true, but that’s not the hook.
If there’s more to the death of Robert Fuller, one certainly hopes authorities discover the truth. Absent evidence, however, what we have is conjecture. Meanwhile, the death of Boone isn’t in dispute to all but the most conspiracy-minded or those who believe a sinister element is behind any death of a person of color at the hands of police.
That’s not what these headlines convey, and that’s an entirely deliberate attempt to obscure the facts of the matter.
If these news organizations are not deliberately fanning the flames of racial division in the United States, they’re doing a great job looking like they’re trying.
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