Suicide baiting is a hate crime
The former me technically died on Feb. 16, 2010 at 6:20 p.m. CST, alone, inside my galley kitchen, following what was already a stressful day back then. I had phoned my son to share details of that morning’s blindside, my business partner’s abrupt announcement to terminate Chalkboard Antiques & Gifts, our decade-old madcap sideline start-up venture by five teacher-entrepreneurs, down now to just two.
This was a door that had closed for me, and news I would never share with my late son, for the man answering my call would render all former adversity as insignificant as he irrevocably slammed the next.
My son had committed suicide on Feb. 16, 2010 at 3:25 p.m. PST, by jumping six stories to his death off the Forever 21 building in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco. From the first stunned breath I took to each subsequent one — reeling in absolute shock from the medical examiner’s words — already I was surviving suicide.
Second by extreme second, entrapped by the respiration process — poised on the the still point of no return that seemed decades long — I was already unwillingly rising up from the white hot ashes of my ancient self, becoming a reluctant alien, a misshapen phoenix staggering unevenly to where I am today, where even the most insipid complaint such as, “My day cannot get any worse!” can disproportionally hurt. A day can always get worse. It did for the person I had been that Mardi Gras Tuesday, 2010, in a different time zone in the same hour as my son’s death.
Later that night, I would learn I was also surviving suicide baiting. Dylan Gifford Yount had been culled. Like a sick animal separated from living. We did not go to bed that night. The people in my house just disbanded.
Today, I am distanced by more than 110,937,600 seconds from that seminal event, and I am angry. In those ensuing seconds, I have become a suicide baiting prevention activist and advocate for society’s sorriest pariah – the intended targets of suicide baiting – the suicidally mentally disabled.
Victims of suicide are persecuted because they are disabled, vulnerable and incapable of rational thought. A suicide baiting is an aggravated harassment, predicated on a calculated intent to harm. If it occurs in public and not on the Internet, it is conspicuous torture, a violence that is articulated through the startled crowd that the mentally disabled victim is not worthy of continuing life. Encouraging the suicidal to go ahead and die is as vulgar as it is illegal.
Indeed, no witnesses knew Dylan or tried to stop the horror. Arguably, the most extraordinary detail was that the atrocity occurred under the indifferent eyes and idle hands of 24 San Francisco police officers who never intervened to stop the Darwinian culling. That SFPD failure to protect my son compels me in the work I do now. I want suicide baiting to be recognized as a hate crime. It meets both stringent FBI requirements.
First off, hate is not criminal by itself, and not all crimes are hate crime, but when crime is committed because of a victim’s real or perceived race, religion, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability, it bumps traditional crime into a new category. Hate crime is bias-motivated crime, protected under the most inclusive human rights legislation ever passed by Congress, the Shepard Byrd Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009. This legislation reopened national dialogue about hate crime, tasked the FBI to track it, and aimed to prohibit victimization based on bias. Clearly, Dylan was targeted because he was disabled. No one at the crime scene tried to convince anyone else besides Dylan to “Jump! Come on, you can dddooooo it!”
Second, the offense must actually be a crime to be classified as a hate crime. Someone can write in a blog “I hate suicide jumpers,” or post that statement on a highway-sized billboard in his or her yard and not be committing a crime. But if someone encourages, advises, or aids in a particular suicide, he or she is committing a crime in almost every U.S. jurisdiction. Encouraging suicide is regarded as manslaughter in 10 states, considered a felony in most others. In the four states where aiding and advising suicide is legal, only physicians may assist in the deed. In the state where Dylan died, encouraging suicide is a felony, and if suicide baiting is the malicious encouragement of suicide, then suicide baiting is illegal in California.
It is often difficult to find hope in my new work. A stand-out example, though, was the 2011 conviction of Minnesota suicide nurse William Melchert-Dinkel who ruthlessly encouraged the victims he met on the Internet to commit suicide. Rice County Judge Thomas Neuville does not mince words in his strong 42-page ruling. Not only did he characterize Melchert-Dinkel’s encouragement as “lethal advocacy” and “fighting words” unprotected by First Amendment speech rights, Judge Neuville found that the suicide advocate — who flagrantly bragged to the police he had done it for the “thrill of the chase” — had played a “direct and imminent role” in his victims’ decisions to kill themselves.
Perhaps even more compelling was a fallout argument put forth by constitutional-law professor Raleigh Levin of St. Paul’s William Mitchell College. She cited an “immediacy factor” as problematic in the case because Melchert-Dinkel’s victims did not “instantly kill themselves,” and she chillingly concluded, “You have to be advocating illegal activity and there has to be this nexus of activity.”
“Nexus of activity” could serve as the essential statement of what happens in a suicide baiting — the causal link between predatory intent and resulting action. It is what close-minded California Judge Maria-Elena James failed to understand when she refused to let us speak in Yount v City and County of San Francisco, our 28-month long bid for a federal trial. In her woeful 13-page Document 54, she toadies to the SFPD to justify the police doing nothing more than protecting the crowd from Dylan’s falling body and not risking their substantial pensions.
Reading her smug dismissal explains why society is disdainful of cops and courts, but her cynical rationalizations will hardly make the infliction of such blatant cruelty disappear. Many of us think we are purchasing service and protection for ALL when we pay our taxes. When judges try to tell us otherwise, it stokes our distrust and fuels civil disobedience.