A body was found on the street. The police investigated, cause of death was obvious, a fall from the adjacent parking garage. Surveillance footage showed the young man entered the garage alone, he left some personal belongings behind, climbed up the wall on the edge of the garage, and jumped. Police interviewed the family and found he had been having “mental health issues” lately, and had researched suicide. He left no note.
If you knew him, you know. If you didn’t know him, you now know all you need to know.
Suicide doesn’t solve problems, it is an escape for the person choosing to take the exit, and places the problems in the hands of those left behind. Some psychiatrists have said that suicide is an act of violence towards the survivors, although sometimes it is the only rational choice available. I can only imagine the horror of losing a child, losing one to suicide is beyond my imagination. I would like to believe I could intervene, but the question might be “Should I?” Maybe it was the best choice for the individual.
This young man’s family requested the police not release his name. The police tried to honor the family’s request, but being public officials, their work and records are public, so they advised a public records request could be filed to obtain the identity of the young man. One local paper made enough of a fuss that the police backed down and released the name. Say that again, out loud. The police department, standing firmly on a legal procedure, backed down to pressure from a local newspaper in a matter of hours rather than respect the family of a citizen.
A town of 28,000 people has two free newspapers, one commercial newspaper, and one internet local news source in addition to the major media outlets of the state and the two actual cultural centers , Philadelphia and Manhattan. There’s a lot of talking, not a lot of thinking, and almost no “doing”. The answer to the question “What are we going to do about this?” is most often “Talk about it”.
Despite having one of the nations highest ranked private universities in its backyard, Princeton is still just another small town. Its local government and police department wouldn’t be out of place in Mississippi (okay, the police would be eaten alive day one), all the weaknesses borne out of inbreeding are present and even celebrated in a perverse local pride.
After another news outlet in town (Planet Princeton, operated by Krystal Knapp) firmly stated they would not publish the deceased name, the Princeton Packet decided they didn’t want to be the “jerk” in “jerkwater town” and chose not to publish the name either, proving that no matter how evil a managing editor’s parents may have been in naming their child, he won’t take it out on other parents. Had he not made that decision, you would have been reading his name, phone number, and email address in this paragraph. Ethics in journalism may be dying, but it’s still kicking.
Of the seven billion people on Earth, one million will commit suicide this year. America rates as 33rd in the world at 12 per 100,000 (2009), below the world average of 16 per 100,000. Worldwide, a life ends due to suicide every forty seconds, and that rate has risen sixty percent in the last forty five years with no indications of slowing. The important story is not who the person is, it is not why the person chose to escape, the important story is what the alternatives are. Option one, keep talking. If only to understand the choice.
I know that privacy is an antiquated, foolish notion, but decency doesn’t have to be.