The other day, I read a NYT article that indicated suicide rates are rising at an alarming rate since 1999. The same day CNN listed a similar statistic at 25% since 1999. This was the day after Kate Spade had taken her life. I thought it a natural followup of a tragic event. This morning I woke to the news of Anthony Bourdain. His series ‘Parts Unknown’ has been receiving high ratings on CNN for years. These are two prominent members of our society based upon their achievements over decades. Yesterday at a conference, a colleague of mine made the poignant statement, ‘suicide isn’t selective’ in its victim.
I’m really having a hard time wrapping my head around this. The first time I experienced suicide was when a friend of mine’s lover took his own life because he was terminal with cancer. I remember he lived a block away from me, and I probably could have heard the shotgun had I been on my deck, but I didn’t know about it until the next day. I remember his partner’s grief, and all the confusion that followed.
Years later, a man named Spaulding Gray wrote a wonderful piece called ‘Swimming To Cambodia’ and I immediately fell in love with his writing, his persona, though I remember being tempered when once interviewed, he stated that when he knows he is too sick to enjoy a quality of life, he will jump in the East river. His body was fished out of that same river two years later. I was devastated. and again not fascinated, more sickened by the reality of such a gesture.
In my own family, we have experienced such a tragedy, and there are never answers beyond the telling statement that depression is often a leading component in a person’s choice to take their own life. I’ve seen it too many times to count, and I still cannot wrap my head around it.
I know in my life I’ve struggled with depression more than I would like to admit. I’ve felt the dark moments that I suggest to all of my students as they go on to college or just live their present lives that when those moments arise, they have to call someone, they cannot allow themselves any other choice. I recognize the hypocrisy of my emotional reaction to this terrible outcome in the lives of so many people in our society and world.
Yet, all I can do today is speak to it from my heart. I didn’t personally know Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams, countless names in the public eye. I don’t know the names of all the people that the reader’s of this commentary have lost over the years. I only know the pain and confusion is real. I only know when my dark moments come, I cannot help but reflect upon the realities that exist around me on any given day.
I can only suggest that people use the hotline – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, rather than accepting someone’s final option as the only answer. There have got to be solutions, and more importantly there has to be a greater awareness and acceptance around the stigma that is attached to mental illness and depression.
In Minneapolis, a white, blonde woman, of means was gunned down by a Somali police officer. Let me say this a different way. A woman in a dark alley was recently shot dead by a cop on patrol in south Minneapolis. Or I could say, after making a call to 911, a woman in certain distress approached a responding squad car, and the officer in the passenger side, fired his weapon across his partner through a window, and she died in the alley of a fatal wound. How do the three descriptions differ from each other? One might wonder which context of this absolute tragedy will matter in the outcome.
Here is the truth. We live in a society that places priority on means. In other words, money does play a role in how situations of tragedy are handled. However, there are many other variables in play here. This isn’t about a white police officer gunning down a person of color, without explanation or cause. This is actually about an officer of color ending the life of an attractive blonde woman. Take the blonde out of the story, this is the story of a woman being gunned down for no apparent reason. Either way it is described, there will be no pleasant outcome. We don’t know there wasn’t a reason because both officers in the patrol had their body cams turned off, another variable.
We don’t know the motivation for the gunshot because it was dark, the woman approached the vehicle, there was no dash cam, and apparently no witnesses beyond the officers and the woman. We are as a society asked to appreciate the reasoning and risk, and thereby respect the duress of our police departments when responding to any call, in any circumstance. I was gently reminded of this weeks ago, when writing about the Philando Castile verdict, how an officer is clearly always walking into danger, whether it be a routine traffic stop, or an already identified point of threat. So this commentary is not about our police force and their right or wrong doings.
This commentary is about how our society is going to handle this current crisis. How is social media going to react? What will be the chain of priority when handling this investigation? Does it take more precedent than the string of killings that have occurred on our streets in the last month, not including the twin cities but across the country? How do we decide that one case matters more than countless others? God help us, that we live in a world that the color of our skin creates a definition of what we determine to be important.
The clear fact is that a woman died at the hands of our police force. The truth is no one knows why except for the officers involved and in circumstances of such terrible outcome, in the moment of haste, worry, concern, personal threat, even their hearts were certainly adrenaline driven in the moment. On the surface we can be quite sure there was a lot of tension and panic involved. In the end though, a woman is dead, and another police force is under scrutiny, and the twin cities has become national news.
So, how do we go forward? Some people might pray to help themselves find calm and balance and heal. Some are pragmatic and will return to their lives and this will be a sad afterthought. Some will move out of the neighborhood, change the locks, buy home security systems, take self defense. Some will remain quietly nervous for the rest of their lives.
We as a society need somehow to respond to one another, and recognize this isn’t a race issue, not a gender based issue, not an easily explainable issue. What is true is that a young woman has lost her life and the treasures of her future and her fiance, family and friends are forever altered. We can try to move forward. We can try to find understanding, empathy, and peace throughout the confusion. There is no easy solution, there is only reality, and the acknowledgment of horrific human error.