SFPD message to 2010 suicide baiting crowd: Your target deserves to be hurt
If lucid dreaming means watching yourself dream, then lucid living – if such a term existed – would describe me, for I have been watching myself survive for nearly four years now as I await the resolution of Yount v City and County of San Francisco. Even in pain, we grow (some say especially), and like Walt Whitman’s protagonist in “There was a child went forth,” I have grown with every “part” of my experience. And cruelty has been in my face 24/7.
I am hardly alone in terms of human exposure to violence. A daily barrage of extreme cruelty is constant like no other time, and while cruelty can be both random and systematic, it is usually the random cruelty of individuals – the unprovoked savagery – that amazes us most, that dizzies our brains with dark images we can barely fathom. Four new images embedded themselves in my lucid dreaming and living last week.
Two became mainstream news after surveillance video recorded the incidents in the Bay area this November: A homophobic teen setting fire to an “agender” teen asleep on a bus and a man stomping on a woman’s head seven times as she lay sleeping on the street. Such unprovoked violence astounds. The defenses disgust. Setting the teen on fire was a “prank;” the woman had “smelled bad.”
Two hideous images from my Facebook feed joined those: A smiling man brandishing the pelt of a cat he had just skinned alive and a smiling girl with a bucketful of helpless pups she catapulted one by one into a rushing river. The eyes of the dying cat and the mewling of the puppies became part of me. Both nighttime and daytime me. Audio and visual me.
To be clear, I do not criticize either the journalists or the Keyboard Warriors who work each day to report the news or to prevent cruelty. Most of us want to stay informed and many of us sign every petition the Crusaders bring to us and try to put the horrific images into perspective afterwards. What should surprise us is this: If cruelty of this magnitude has become so common, why does it feel so unnatural when we encounter it? The answer is simple: Cruelty is still unnatural for most of us.
Edgar Allan Poe said cruelty was predicated on the “spirit of perverseness,” the attempt to “vex” the soul itself, the desire to do wrong because one recognizes it as such. His story “The Black Cat” reminds us that the path from animal abuser to human abuser is direct and short, a theory psychologists have long corroborated. We all know cruelty is never accidental.
I did not start out to become a student of cruelty. In better times, I was able to keep such horror in perspective. Yet, in not quite four years I have become an expert in a very specialized area of human cruelty. It is the loathsome topic I now know best; its prevention is my raison d’etre. I am fluent in suicide baiting. This is how my only child Dylan Yount died, as a victim of a suicide baiting in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, on Shrove Tuesday, 2010.
Since that time, I have regrettably relinquished any luxury of selecting topics for either my lucid dreaming or living. Instead, images of horror arise unbidden to tutor me as I watch my nighttime and daytime self assimilating cruelty through the brutal filter of Dylan’s death. On several alarming occasions, I have awakened myself with my own screaming, so I readily admit it is the perspective of my experience I cannot change.
Even so, as far as I am concerned, the psychologists can study the subtle differences between psychopaths and sociopaths all they like. For me, it is enough to understand that the individual who would set fire to a sleeping human being, stomp on a sleeping woman, or torture a helpless animal would also goad a confused man to jump 100 feet to a gory death. Such behavior is chilling. Such callousness is horrifying. These sadists are not ordinary people – yet.
The truth is, the cruelty that actually sealed Dylan’s fate was more insidious and harder to explain. This cruelty is also heinously deliberate and more difficult to fight since society can always lock up a solitary madman. Cruelty that is inflicted in an official capacity is what should terrify us most. This cruelty is a calculated and methodical evil that empowers deviants and rewards victimizers. It is systematic cruelty.
The greatest horror of Dylan’s suicide baiting is that the SFPD showed an official willingness to support cruelty. By doing nothing to stop the braying crowd, the SFPD proved to the crowd that their target deserved to be hurt.
This situation was evident to everyone there, including Dylan. By not intervening, the SFPD showed that whatever random violence they would tolerate for any one victim, they might just as well tolerate for any other substitute. The hopelessness of this knowledge tapped into everyone’s fear. It intensified the barbarity in the plaza.
Equally significant was that the SFPD never issued a single word of censure to the victimizers. While the pragmatic would respond that such a condemnation would expose the police to legal risk, it was still a deliberate choice not to officially condemn the behavior of the crowd. No condemnation was ever issued by the San Francisco city and county government, either. This official silence – both then and now – constitutes an endorsement, a sincere form of indirect approval for Dylan’s death.
The good continue to hope that systematic cruelty will not become acceptable. Already, systematic cruelty explains how 90 cities in our nation have made feeding the homeless a crime, how the powerful try to legitimatize the idea that some lives are worth less than others. Often, it seems we have forgotten how the Holocaust started.
From my perspective, humanity reached a new low on February 16, 2010, in San Francisco. Dylan’s death will be the litmus test.