A Strange Death in Strange Circumstances

Raymond Zack, 50, died standing in San Francisco Bay May 30, according to Yahoo News on June 1st.  He waded into the bay from the Alameda shore up to his neck before about 75 police, fire folk and curious onlookers.  He stood for about an hour, looking occasionally at his audience before finally ending his act floating face down in the 54 degree water.  A volunteer, Yahoo said, finally went out and brought the body to shore. A small story making few waves, it soon passed from view.

Perhaps it shouldn't.  Maybe Zack's last moments have something to say to us, something we need to hear and ponder.  He put on a show (admission free) for a reason only he knew.  But his attention-getting, star performance wasn't the most significant part of the show, just the most spectacular.  The most important roles may have been played on shore, in the audience. And some of those seem strange.

Yahoo described the police and firemen as: first responders, leaving us to wonder why they were there.  Were they called to help?  Were they just going by on coffee break?  Yahoo says they did nothing about Mr. Zack's actions but watch.  Yahoo said the Alameda fire spokesman told the Mercury News their crews lacked training and equipment to enter the water as a result of budget cuts; they remained onshore because that was policy.  The police supervisor said his men did what they were supposed to do; this looked like suicide and maybe Zack would have been violent, endangering the police should they have tried to save him.  These leave us with a mystery; if the police and fire crews intended to do nothing, why were they there?  Why didn't they either stay away or pack up and leave when they identified the circumstances?  Strange.

Zack's audience included others; they weren't all police and fire crews ordered just to watch.  No one of those others tried to help either.  News stories of some passer-by risking his life to save someone used to be a staple of reporting; the presence of such a hero in the average crowd was a given; that was what Americans did.  Evidently, that time has passed; it's the government's job now and when the government doesn't perform, well, it's better not to get involved.  You could be sued, after all.  Or as the cop said, maybe Zack would have been violent if approached.  Maybe.

The whole performance lasted about an hour. Zack stood there in the water and repeatedly looked back at those on shore.  Maybe he wasn't ready to die; maybe he was hoping someone would intervene.  Maybe he didn't intend to die at all; he just waited in the cold water too long.  We'll never know.

This is one of those dramas that reveal more about the audience than about the star, and perhaps that makes it important.  If this San Francisco Bay community is indicative, Americans have changed; help thy neighbor has been replaced by it's the government's job.  And that government has changed too; from people devoted to public service, people who used to earn less than those in the private sector, to people who feel responsible for human life only when paid sufficiently.  And the folk responsible for the shift call themselves "Progressives."  Strange.

Past generations of Americans valued human life; they assumed that others would stand up to help, even at risk to themselves, when that was needed.  Results were a stronger social bond and a safer society.  If this Alameda event isn't some sort of wild exception, we're abandoning that for ...what?