On April 14, the charred remains of a human body were found in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The body was pronounced dead around 6:30 a.m. A note was placed inside of a shopping cart that read somewhat like a manifesto; it was integral in the identification of the victim. Through this note, the police were able to gather the victim’s name and motive behind his suicide. The body was identified as David S. Buckel, a prominent champion of gay marriage, LGBT rights and environmental conservation.
Buckel had planned his death to be the ultimate warning for the importance of eliminating fossil fuels. He had actually emailed multiple copies of the note to numerous newspapers, minutes before he committed suicide. The Washington Post was able to publish the note sent to the Times. It reads: “Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water, and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result- my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
Buckel’s death is part of a larger phenomenon, known as political self-immolation. This is where people choose to commit suicide by lighting themselves on fire in solidarity for their political or spiritual beliefs. Buckel’s case is not an isolated one, as a similar suicide occurred earlier this year in January.
A Russian citizen by the name of Dmitry Rudov had been fired from his engineering job at the local plant of Bashkorotstan. Rudov believed his dismissal was unfair and asked President Putin to help get his job back. After no word from Putin, Rudov decided to take his own life in protest of perceived government corruption. He stood in front of the mayor’s office, and shouted “I protest! Corruption!” He then proceeded to coat himself in gasoline, and light himself on fire.
Mr. Rudov’s suicide received almost no coverage outside of Russia. One of the only Western news source to cover his death was Newsweek. This seems to be a common occurrence in political self-immolations: lack of media coverage. Another example is the fact that there have been 153 politically motivated self-immolations in China and Tibet since 2009. All of them were in protest of the numerous human rights violations against the Tibetan people. Very few of these deaths were given any attention by national or international news outlets.
Sadly, I believe Buckel’s suicide will follow this pattern. His death will receive a small amount of news coverage with little focus on his message and eventually the media will move on to something else. Buckel will become another person on the long list of self-immolators who died wanting to call attention to some great injustice in the world that the world decided it didn’t care about.
Buckel’s death is a blow to both environmental groups and the LGBT rights movement. During his time at Lambda Legal, he worked non-stop to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey and Iowa. He fought for Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was raped and murdered in Humboldt, NE, whose case was mishandled by the local Sheriff’s office. Buckel also helped to pass a law to prevent the bullying of gay students. After his successful career as a lawyer, he worked for numerous volunteer environmental groups up until the time of his death.
While I completely disagree with Mr. Buckle’s methods, I do think his message is an important one. I also can’t say anything negative about him because I admire his work ethic and passionate defense of people’s rights. While I truly wish Mr. Buckel had not taken his own life and instead had continued his career as an advocate, he was so committed to this course of action that I don’t think anyone could have convinced him to stop. This quote from passerby Warren Beishir epitomizes both the media and the public’s reaction to his death; “It’s a terrible way to go and I don’t want to think about it after today.”