Onlookers laugh and cheer as a man jumps to his death – and we wonder why more people aren’t vegan?!
I was there today when a man killed himself before a live audience of bystanding spectators in San Francisco.
I was biking down Market Street when I saw a massive crowd gathered near the Powell Street cable car turnaround. They were frantically yelling, a combination of anxious cries and excited cheers, as though watching the climax of an intense sports match. I figured it must be a fistfight, but I was wrong…because the shouting then rose to a sudden cacophony punctuated by a dense fleshy thump.
I had never heard a sound like that in my life, and wondered what the hell it could be. Traffic had stopped, people were rushing across Market, and police & ambulances were screeching in, so I crossed the street to find out, and saw, right on the north side of the Powell BART station fence, a handful of cops standing over a shirtless man lying face-down in a bloody pool on the sidewalk. People were pointing up at the window ledge of the third-floor apartment above the “Forever 21” store he’d just jumped from, and holding cameras in the air snapping pictures of the corpse.
This nightmarish scenario was disturbing enough, but far worse was overhearing numerous young people actually laughing and saying things like “Oh shit! Did you see that?!” and “That was so cool!” One twenty-something woman nearby even loudly bragged to her friend on a cell phone that “I was yelling ‘Jump! Jump!’ And then he jumped!”
We may well wonder what caused 32-year-old Dylan Yount to take his own life. I don’t know his reasons, but maybe it had something to do with being sick and tired of living in a world where shit like this happens?
Call me naïve or out of touch, but I was actually shocked that some people’s response to seeing a fellow human violently end his tortured existence was about the same as if they’d just watched a YouTube video of a guy getting repeatedly kicked in the balls.
It’s existentially insane that, in this day and age, supposedly civilized folks consume actual, real-life atrocity as a form of entertainment while it's actually happening. The fact that these grotesque inhuman deformities actually felt comfortable broadcasting their repugnant monstrosity to everyone within earshot makes my heart ache. But what makes it so much worse is that they actually felt compelled to publicly proclaim the deadness of their souls.
Significantly, all of those I personally observed deriding Dylan's death were young adults ranging from their late-teens to mid-twenties. It's not really a generational thing though: callous, casual cruelty rears its ugly head in every century, whether it's the Roman Coliseum, Jack the Ripper or Kitty Genovese. I just expect better in 21st century San Francisco. Regardless of place or time, those who laughed as Dylan died clearly have no manners, no shame, no decency, and perhaps no capacity for compassion.
And I really can’t help but wonder, what in the world made them that way? Did they suffer horrific, unspeakable physical abuse and psychological torture as children? Or are they just unbelievable assholes? Either way, what's their excuse? And does their vile brutality and lack of empathy indicate that, ultimately, humankind has no future?
The Killing Joke
Years ago, when I was newly vegan, I spent many a Friday night with other activists on the sidewalk outside of the Metreon multiplex in downtown San Francisco handing out “Why Vegan?” booklets while showing “Meet Your Meat” and other factory farming videos on a battery-powered TV/VCR. Most people would walk by without acknowledging my offer of a booklet and deliberately avoid looking at the TV images. Some would stop and watch for awhile, and maybe take a leaflet, or even cry and thank us for being there, putting a little money in our donation jar.
And a few – always young men – would make a big show of laughing out loud as animals were slaughtered onscreen. Similarly, when I co-hosted “Vegan TV” on the SF community access station, we’d sometimes get calls from Beavis and Butthead types calling us faggots, pussies or whatever because we refused to eat meat.
In those days, such things rarely phased me, because I had an explanation. I figured these young guys joked about animal cruelty and those who repudiated it because admitting to anyone (especially their male peers) that they had feelings about anything (or anyone) left them vulnerable to ridicule, rejection and being branded “gay” – so laughing at others’ pain was their way of acting tough.
Hey, I was involuntarily subjected to junior high school too, and remember what a powerful force peer pressure was at that age, and how often I conformed to others’ rigid and distorted definitions of manhood simply because I lacked a strong self-identity and the courage to be myself. So, armed with this analysis, I deduced that the boys’ humorous reaction to slaughter footage was both a result of nervous laughter and a way for them to impress their friends. It seemed rather pathetic, but understandable: because in a way I’d been in their shoes before.
But now, after years of practicing animal rights advocacy and discovering denial firmly entrenched in every stratum of society, I no longer find such simplistic explanations of casual cruelty satisfactory. Mainly because even most so-called “mature adults” never really grow up when it comes to fundamentally respecting non-human species. Many don't even respect fellow human beings.
Even as I write, and even as you read, somewhere in the world animals are being tortured for people’s amusement in circuses, rodeos, horse races, game reserves, dog fighting rings, and other “entertainments” that by all rights should have been abolished along with human slavery long ago. But there's also still human slavery, war, starvation, terrorism, and torture going on this minute as well. There are millions of poor, homeless children right here in prosperous America. In one way at least, my experience today only served to reinforce my grave doubts about the true nature of our species — that humankind, as a whole, is stubbornly numb to the sufferings of others, whether or not we are directly responsible for their misery.
Then again, in my despair, there’s a whole other side to this story that I’ve neglected to tell. That is, of the hundreds of people who today saw a man fall to his doom, most did not laugh or cheer: they cried openly in the arms of loved ones, or sought emotional solace from a stranger, or stood silently awestruck alone contemplating the inconceivable. If not so distressed by the relative minority whose heartless behavior I found so nauseating, I might have stuck around awhile longer to grieve with those whose humanity seemingly remained intact, and perhaps found my faith in people restored. Instead, numbed to the core of my being, I rode on, and decided hours later to share my thoughts here in this public journal.
I guess it just goes to show that every life experience presents both challenges to and opportunities for growth, and what we choose to make of them is often largely up to us. Meaning, in the course of our Earthly journey, we always need to beware of mistaking one small aspect of reality for the whole truth.
If you are feeling suicidal, please call a suicide hotline and get the help you need!