Do police deserve a Teflon coating?
A negative subtext to suicide has always existed, but for the potential jumper, the negativity can become exponentially violent.
“Let’s admit it. We hate jumpers!” irresponsibly declares Seattle-based blogger Charles Mudede in “Jumpers” as he bluntly shares a grisly tidbit about Seattle’s Aurora Bridge in The Stranger.
He practically vibrates as he recounts the anecdote: ”One pissed off cop (SPD Sergeant Miller)… recommended that instead of placing phones linked to crisis centers… the city should place a diving board… just to let the jumpers know how much the public dislikes their pathetic performances.”
I have read his sinister diatribe many times, always with the same abject horror and sorrow for the suicide survivors he traumatizes. From reading Mudede and his ilk, I have somewhat learned to steel myself against similar asinine viewpoints about the suicidal ever since the suicide baiting death of my only child, Dylan Yount, in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, Feb. 16, 2010. I am also completely able to imagine Mudede, SPD Sergeant Miller, and San Francisco Police Department Officer Cezar Perez all finding instant common ground regarding attitudes between wet and dry jumpers (water and land).
Even so, I continue to resent unskilled tutoring. Consider this latest chop logic from Julie C. in “Enough Is Enough,” the blog page on Facebook.
“Suicide baiting is wrong,” she writes, “but should it be illegal?… I don’t believe in making everything that is wrong illegal… Did the police do all they could? No they didn’t,” she answers herself then adds, “but they probably didn’t know what else to do… there is often the fear that attempting and failing will result in being sued… Fear of consequences creates apathy.”
Her concluding statement next is pure paradox, delivered like an attention-seeking benediction directed to the litigious me in Yount v City and County of San Francisco: ”I ache for your loss and I understand why you are taking the course that you are taking. I just don’t agree with your conclusion.”
WTF? What conclusion have I made that she did not just reiterate? That suicide baiting is wrong? That the SFPD did not do “all they could” to help my son? That they probably did not know what to do? That they were apathetic? And, once and for all — people, I did not write the California felony law prohibiting suicide baiting. In fact, Penal Code 401 is actually a stronger prohibitor to felony crime that the nonexistent cannibalism statutes would presumably be to prevent a Hannibal Lecter, say, from eating a man’s liver with fava beans and a nice chianti.
All fuzzy thinkers can continue to twist suicide baiting into a million unrecognizable shapes in this lawsuit, but we will still be left with the same situation. We are living in perilous times when our first responders can decide who is worth saving and whom they will allow to die, and which laws they will enforce and which they will ignore. Three issues in real-time and cyber-time suicide baiting and bullying loom large for our courtrooms.
First, are we ready to confer ironclad invincibility on our cops? Are we prepared to tolerate an absence of training and protocols in order to fend off potential litigation? While we would ostensibly find such a Teflon coating unsuitable for our doctors and teachers, we never hear about malpractice insurance or merit pay for cops. Instead, the SFPD has a cadre of malpractice support in their city lawyers, apparently at their beck and call.
Second, are we so ready to allow our police to turn our streets into de facto courtrooms where they serve as judge and jury regarding the suicidal? Are we ready to write off the mentally ill as unworthy of our protection or of life itself? Although not every jumping suicide attempt escalates into a suicide baiting, every participant in a suicide baiting tries to escalate the violence into a jumping death.
Third, how unhealthy is it for us to be unable to question police protocols because they have grandfathered immunities and privileges totally out of sync with suicide research? Do we acquiesce to a police refusal to even talk to us, so fearful are they of our litigation?
If there was nothing to hide in the Dylan Yount suicide baiting death, then why did the SFPD never return a single phone call to the family and delay sending its police report for 17 agonizing long weeks? How impudent are our police becoming when they can list nine SFPD officers in charge of “crowd control” at a suicide baiting, of all things, the use of the two terms together being diametrically opposed by definition? They knew they’d screwed up is why.
Whether it comes from our newspaper editors or from our police, all reporting that perpetuates biases about the suicidal is harmful. Pretending that mental illness is a choice makes suicide prevention unrealistic. From newspaper editors denigrating suicidal misery as “performance art” to police officers calling up to the man on the ledge, “You, FOOL!”; from characterizing suicidal death as a “successful jump” or calling for a “hostage negotiator” to diffuse a suicide baiting, we should be ashamed of our barbarism.
Many find other “pathetic performances” besides the suicidal disease of angst much more disgusting.