Saving ‘The Finest’
The public may know that more than 2,000 military men and women have committed suicide within the past decade. Fewer know of the suicides down the street—the 300 police officers a year who kill themselves, more than those who die on active duty. New Jersey, for example, lost 12 in 2010. That number was the second highest, after New York, and deaths would have been higher if not for COP2COP, its HelpLine suicide prevention program that dissuaded 15. In Connecticut, four took their lives between June and August 2011. These victims are men and women psychologically screened to represent “the finest.”
There is no one answer to the question why. These police officers are overwhelmingly white and male. They shoot themselves off-duty, at home, because of marital discord, alcohol and substance abuse, and psychological, legal or work-stress problems. New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, with rising death rates, have initiated creative programs to break through the protective wall that inhibits strong men, who fear that talking about their problems will make them look weak. This includes stress-debriefing after violent episodes, straight talk about alcoholism and annual “mental health checks.”
The basic element in many suicides is the confluence of the three most-mentioned factors: (1) work stress, which flows into (2) the marital relationship and (3) threatens the officer’s self-image as the person in charge. The challenge for an anti-suicide program is to reshape what it means for a cop to be strong—including the way the officer relates to his or her weapon. This is a large order, but society owes attention to these officers.
The Arab Spring has lingered into autumn and now winter. The outcome of these uprisings for the region’s Christian population remains uncertain. In Egypt, the militant Salafists have made unexpected gains; but like the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, they have been campaigning on bread-and-butter issues like jobs and healthcare, not on imposing Shariah law. Some form of pluralist Islamic democracy with freedom for Christians remains possible. In Syria, the cradle of Christianity, however, the future of the country and of its Christians is less certain.
A mostly nonviolent resistance to the Assad regime continues to grow and suffer. The fate of Christians depends less on the overthrow of the Assad dictatorship than on the unknown future that will follow. Syria is home to two million native Christians in a variety of traditions, and it also hosts more than a million refugees, including hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Palestinian Christians with nowhere else to flee. A civil war between Sunni, Alawite and Shiite Muslims would inevitably embroil Christians.
With the aid of U. N. and nongovernmental agencies, like Caritas Internationalis and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, the world community needs to take steps to see that conditions are established to avoid a civil war, in which the minority Christians would be victims. The committed nonviolence of the Syrian resistance is encouraging, but the many tools for post-conflict transformation that have been developed in recent decades need to be made available and adopted for the sake of the survival of Christianity in the East and a peaceful future for all.
A Matter of Life and Death
Last September, thousands gathered to protest the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, and the death penalty in general. That same month, at a Republican presidential debate, audience members applauded with enthusiasm when the moderator, Brian Williams, mentioned the 234 executions that took place in Texas in recent years. Americans, it seemed, were divided as ever on the issue. But support for the death penalty is declining, and with it the number of executions in the United States.
A Gallup poll in 2011 found that 61 percent of Americans supported the death penalty, down from 80 percent in 1994. Illinois abolished the death penalty last year, and Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon declared a moratorium on it in his state. In addition, the number of individuals sentenced to death in the United States has fallen drastically. This year, according to a recent report from the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 individuals were sentenced to death, the first time the number has dropped below 100 in three decades.
This shift comes as Americans increasingly find the practice unfair, expensive and at risk of executing innocent people. Many also question the reliability of forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony in capital cases. The fact that criminals can be sentenced to life without parole has made the death penalty seem less necessary for the defense of public order.
Last November Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the church’s opposition to capital punishment and his support for groups working to eliminate it. The United States has other ways to protect the public from dangerous criminals. The death penalty is unnecessary and wrong.