Monday, October 13, 2008

Call to Action: For Our Own Humanity, We Must Remember Shaun Dykes

Hello Bloggers - I know it involves a crowd overseas, but I still think it's important for us to remember just how cruel people can get, especially when they gather and act like a mob. This is a stark and painful follow-up to my comments on last week's hateful campaign crowds, and just how horribly wrong things can go when they get out of hand. Like I said, people can die.

In the UK last week 17 year old Shaun Dykes threw himself off the roof of a shopping center in Derby, England, after a crowd gathered below and goaded him into jumping while chanting anti-gay obscenities. Shaun stood on the building roof for three hours contemplating killing himself. Eyewitness Alasdair Kay told the BBC's Today, "We could hear people shouting 'jump fag' followed by a stream of expletives. They weren't all just young people, some were middle-aged. To be honest with you I was sickened."

BBC reports that Derbyshire's Chief Constable Mick Creedon confirmed that members of the public encouraged the teenager to kill himself. Some filmed the event and posted it on the Internet. Pictures of him standing on top of the railings before his death even appeared in the newspaper the Daily Mail.

Up to 300 people gathered below where Shaun was perched on a railing. Some sources say that some observers, incredibly, allowed their children to watch. "Whilst we are very used to dealing with incidents like this, this was unusual with members of the public videoing, taking photographs and even shouting for Shaun to jump," Creedon said.

His teacher Rob Howard said that he was an openly gay student and that many of the kids “goaded him to jump" for that reason. The Bishop of Derby, the Rev. Dr. Alastair Redfern, added: “I’m horrified. I hope these people feel deeply ashamed. Here was a very troubled person crying out for help.”

After three hours and plenty of loud shouts of "jump fag" from the crowd, Shaun jumped the 60 feet to his death. It is reported that Shaun left a suicide note and was upset after the break-up of a relationship. His friends say that he was a great guy who "always had a smile on his face."

The whole story disgusts me, especially reading about how the crowd wasn't questioned or charged. The authorities just let the hate-mongering accomplices go free. The police said it was because the crowd was too large. I say it was because they didn't care enough. Crowds, like bullies, often get away with harm, or murder. Society should not tolerate hate, from individuals or crowds.

I am horrified, but not surprised. I've almost been a victim of crowd related violence myself after I tried to help somebody being threatened and abused. People didn't come to my defense against the bullies; they joined in the bullying. We were lucky to get out of there with only a few scratches and light punches.

I think that's what happens when people gather and allow hate to consume them. Who knows, it might be from a dark place completely unrelated. Perhaps they're expressing their anger at the world, or their disappointment in their own lives? Who knows, but the bottom line is they can't seem to stop themselves from taking it out on innocent people. They seem to lose touch with those very important parts of our social humanity: empathy, sympathy and compassion. It's like they become animals or something.

Shaun died partly because of his own pain, but also because of society's willingness to tolerate the hate that ultimately taunted him to his death. Our leaders need to always remind us that we are responsible for controlling our own anger, and for taking care of each other.

We should never channel - individually or as a crowd - any hate or anger in a destructive way. As I said on my earlier crowd-related post, people can get seriously hurt or die when crowds are allowed to erupt into verbal and physical violence. That crowd below Shaun should have been dispersed. The police failed to do their job.

We are each our brother's keeper. We are all responsible for our society's actions. We must demand civility and security for ourselves and those vulnerable among us. I would like to convey my personal condolences and prayers for Shaun, his family and friends. I hope they can find peace.

I urge you take action and sign an online tribute to Shaun here. I also urge you to join good government organizations that fight against hate and violence. Feel free to email me if you want my personal suggestions.

Monday's Call to Action #1 - Michael

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