The man was not happy to be placed on a suicide watch, and he blamed me for it. I was responsible for the call. I made it. His situation was dire, and when he told me not once, but three times, of his thoughts of self-destruction, it struck me that his response would be perfectly rational. The world is like that some times. Bad things happen, and cannot be avoided. If it is apponted to us once to die, what reason is there to stand idly by awaiting the inevitable?
I asked for a suicide watch on this man because I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought he was a danger to himself. While I understand well his bleak assessment of his situation, I am not walking in his footsteps. A duty the law imposes on me required me to act on his behalf, and so, I acted. But there are times, it seems to me, in which life can be too hard.
I was reminded of this watching the disturbing video of a man opening fire with a handgun at members of a school board in Bay City, Florida. Clay Duke stood toe to toe with the board, leveled his gun, and fired. Somehow, he missed his targets. But as he lay wounded from the gunshots fired at him by a school security officer, he managed one final bullet to kill himself.
The school board had apparently fired Duke's ex-wife. The man is heard to tell the board members that the couple's benefits had run out. So he walked into the school board meeting, spray-painted a large "V," for vendetta, no doubt, and fired away.
Panama City Police Chief John Van Etten was quick to label Clay mentally ill: "I think it's just safe to say at this point that, obviously, Mr. Duke had some mental health issues."
Perhaps. Or just maybe Clay demonstrated what it looks like when a person concludes that his government lacks legitimacy. Clay walked into that board meeting apparently intent on dying. His act was suicidal, and his intentions were homicidal. But that does not necessarily make him insane. Perhaps he saw all too clearly.
"My Testament: Some people ... will say I was evil, a monster (V)," he wrote "... no... I was just born poor in a country where the Wealthy manipulate, use, abuse, and economically enslave 95% of the population. Rich Republicans, Rich Democrats... same-same... rich... they take turns fleecing us... our few dollars... pyramiding the wealth for themselves. The 95%... the us, in US of A, are the neo slaves of the Global South. Our Masters, the Wealthy, do, as they like to us."
That doesn't sound so crazy to me. Disturbed? Yes, but not in any clinical sense. Clay was disturbed by a world in which the rhetoric justifying our institutions doesn't match the reality of the life he lived. The dissonance bred despair, and anger. He acted out in a final kind of way. It was destructive, to be sure, and wasteful, too. But the reality and rhetoric of Clay's final acts are at least in accord. He believed the power structure tilted irretrievably against people in his position. He could die a slow death of despair and neglect, or he could storm the ramparts. That his death accomplished nothing does not undermine its significance. His point may well have been better to go out on his own two feet than to be dragged through the mud and smothered to death by a society, government and institutions that regard the Clay Dukes of this world as fungible.
Sometimes, I am reminded again, the extreme act is just the right response to a reality that yields no good alternative. Clay Duke may have seen too clearly the world of the underclass. It is a world in which self-destruction is less suicide than protest.