In 1994, the City of New York was hit with a terrible tragedy -- one that didn't happen in one day. Over the course of that year, twelve members of the city's police agencies took their own lives. Each had a reason. Every story was different. But the total impact of the brotherhood of law enforcement officers, on families and caring members of the community was very great.
Suicide is a terrible thing. It can be brought on because of mental illness, feelings of guilt over some unforgiven bad deed, grief over a great loss, being overwhelmed by the problems of life and loneliness. When someone we look to to be strong, capable and reassuring -- someone like a law enforcement officer -- takes this way out, it is very tragic and hard to comprehend. But it goes to show that no one is immune to despair and tragedy and we must be on the lookout for the warning signs in people -- even very young people -- who may be in trouble and may be considering this as a way out.
I wrote the following poem in that tragic year of 1994 -- the year we lost the New York City twelve, Ricky Parisian and the five DEA Special Agents in Peru -- and gave it to an organization called the American Association of Suicidology so it could share it with families who have been touched by suicide. They published it in their newsletter "Surviving Suicide."
BY THEIR OWN HAND
In the forest, an oak tree fell.
And there was none around to tell
What sort, if any, sound
It made as it did topple to the ground.
We find it later lying there.
Its branches, once held high in air,
Alike enduring storm and breeze,
Most tall and noble of the trees.
The sight does bring to mind
An oak tree of a human kind.
The kind we all see every day
In blue or brown or steely gray.
The symbol of authority,
Of our superiority
Over all the crawling, creeping things,
And all the terrors darkness brings.
Our new centurions. Our noble knights.
On chargers decked with flashing lights.
We marvel how they take the field
With three-foot lance and tiny shield.
They boast their boasts and brag their braggings;
Effect their rescues and slay their dragons.
But some have stories, in the end,
Upon which darkness may descend.
We ask of them so very much:
To handle things we wouldn't touch;
To go and view what we'd not see,
Out of sight and quietly.
While most in family, faith or duty
Do find in life enough of beauty
To keep them proof against despair,
It's more than some of them can bear.
For what they see, can take its toll
On even the very stalwart soul.
The streets grown harsh, depraved, uncouth;
A terror to the old and youth;
They see the kids abused and hurt
Abandoned amid filth and dirt,
They see the human lives laid waste;
No trace of dignity left uneffaced.
The system fails the little guy
And many say: "Why even try?"
The buck? We'll tell you where it stops:
Right in the lap of America's cops.
There they are, alone, unseen, unheard.
There they stand, obedient to our word.
Confusion building up inside --
Explosively both need and pride.
And when this thing has run its course
Against the self turns deadly force.
What towered once in life and strength
Will prostrate lie, its height turned length.
And anyone who was around
Cannot deny its awful sound.
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