So the last 7 days or so have been eventful and largely tragic. So, without any particular direction, here are some thoughts….
Ferguson, Missouri. Yet another unarmed young black man shot and killed, this time by a law enforcement officer. It’s frustrating that despite living in a time that is empirically one of the safest in American history, the readiness, willingness, and even eagerness with which a certain segment of the population resorts to homicide despite an absence of a grave and immediate threat of the same to their own person is immensely distressing. Ending a life is a permanent decision and one that impacts hundreds or even thousands of people.
I also firmly hold the belief that law enforcement officers should be held to an even higher standard for the use of lethal force than stand-your-ground redneck nutjobs because their career choice does come with the presumed threat of harm daily and they are more than fairly compensated for the risk. They are trained and equipped with numerous alternatives to lethal force to neutralize a threat. If a peace officer kills a civilian and that civilian is not in possession of any deadly weapons or was not actively using extreme physical force against an officer, that should be a crime. This is happening too often.
Robin Williams. A tragedy, and a particularly poignant one because I think many of us who were familiar with him, his life, and his recent struggles, although shocked by the suddenness of his death, were not wholly surprised he took his own life. Whenever something like that happens, when a known depressive who was so public with his struggle still decides to commit suicide, we’re confronted with two troubling thoughts. The first is that, could we (or SOMEBODY) have done something to help him? The second is a more somber and painful realization that sometimes certain people are beyond help; that there are people for whom life is too much, too painful, and too sad.
The morning of Williams’ death I was met with the news that a friend’s mother had also ended her life in a manner and at an age very similar to Williams. Signs of depression had been there, significant outreach efforts had been made to help her, but short of forced institutionalization, there isn’t anything that can be done to stop someone for whom life has become truly unbearable. Not all suicide attempts are cries for help.
There is something of an epidemic of suicide amongst older Baby Boomers, which researchers are attributing to a number of reasons, especially the social isolation and financial difficulties that come as retirement approaches. The social clubs and fraternal organizations that kept communities together and helped maintain friendships and connections through retirement and into old age, staples of my grandparents’ generation, are fewer and fewer. Community-supported clubs and programs have been eschewed in favor of an “I’ve got mine” attitude hidden behind the rhetoric of lower taxes and smaller government.
I’m not saying community will end suicide–and in Robin Williams’ case he was not want for friends–but knowing that there are people you count on out there and people who count on you won’t hurt.
The most fitting tribute to Williams is the number of people who posted candid photos of themselves with the man. I don’t know a single person more than one degree removed from a personal interaction with Robin Williams. Hell, even my brother met him when he was a child extra in Jack. He gave himself to the world with a compulsive generosity that perhaps ultimately was his undoing, but he had the power to feel like a friend even to those of us who never met him because he gave himself so wholly until there wasn’t anything left to give.