Brooklyn Man Burns Himself Alive In Protest, Buddhist-Monk Style

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David Buckel

“I am David Buckel and I’ve just killed myself by fire in a protest suicide. I apologize to you for the mess.”
–suicide note left under the name of David Buckel

This was originally going to be another journal entry, but there are some singular aspects to this story which I think requires its own post.

So nationally-acclaimed LGBTQ lawyer and environmental activist David Buckel, 60, set himself on fire in the middle of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park yesterday morning at 6:30 AM. His charred yet weirdly-preserved body, lying on its back and reaching out into the sky, was found by joggers.

Next to his body he left a suicide note claiming he killed himself using a fossil fuel (I’m assuming gasoline) to protest fossil fuels and other things that hurt the environment.

This happened, relatively speaking, kind of on my front doorstep. I know the area in which he did this. I know the exact area of the park, and surrounding neighborhood, where he did this. I would not be surprised at all if in my everyday travels I had passed Buckel on the street at least several times. He looks familiar.

This act, on “first glance” about just reading public info on the man…does not seem like the work of a “standard” crazy-person. I’ve watched videos of this guy…he seemed like a normal guy who was simply passionate about the environment. I am still trying to understand how someone like that goes through the steps to calmly set themselves on fire in the middle of Prospect Park like a Buddhist monk.

And then I thought: was he triggered off by the Syria strikes the previous day? Was he just like: “nope, world is just getting shittier and shittier, gotta do something.”

The chilling thing on top of the chilling way Buckel died is that…not a lot of people seemed to care about his protest. Gauging by Twitter, there was little chatter or remark about this event; a few of the tweets that were made seemed to almost “complain” about how this event inconvenienced their sunny day at the park. Like: “ew, gross!”

One person on Twitter noted how cavalier the cops seemed to be about the event…like, I think one cop noted that they were preparing for any press coverage, but they didn’t expect a lot. Another person tweeted that hours later, the charred grass-less patch of dirt in which Buckel had died had been left without even a tarp to cover it, and that even children were starting to wander into it.

And the graphic photo of this man’s body—or the 3-D ash outline of what his body used to be—was just posted and reposted as if it was “nothing.” No big deal. Smack dab in one of the most expensive, gentrified places to live in America this guy set himself on fire in protest—but very few people seem to give a fuck.

And maybe that’s because we are collectively so jaded right now that the type of act or image that would have really impacted us 30, 40, 50 years ago—like that famous picture of the monk who set himself on fire as a war protest—barely registers as a blip.

But I cared…I was sitting at the bar like 45 minutes later after reading about this, my hand shaking. This bothered me on a visceral level. This made me question: do I even have any major unshakeable beliefs I would be so passionate about—I don’t mean passionate enough to set myself on fire, but just to dedicate my life to. To even dedicate myself to in a non-cynical way.

And then later, like the next day…somebody on a message board questioned the details of the story. Just basic things like…how did nobody see Buckel do this? Usually, these protests are done in places where people actively are, to witness it. What are all the facts in this story?

And as much as I wanted to sculpt this narrative as simply “a man like a Buddhist monk did the ultimate sacrifice to wake people up”…goddammit, it’s never that simple.

Maybe this is why I can never really be a full “true believer.” Because in the final analysis I’m always like:

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Maybe this is my saving grace; or maybe this is something that makes me perpetually miserable. I don’t know.

And lastly: as we saw in the case of Iranian vegan YouTube star Nasim Aghdam…is there kind of such a negative energy currently in the world that are making these sorts of sensitive, socially-aware souls snap?

Maybe I should just embrace my Columbo-type rough-hewn warts and cynicism and shitty taste in movies and all the other dumb stuff I do. Maybe these are times in which you just need a dumb armor like that once in a while, just to get by and absorb all this crap around us. It’s like…I want to be that crusader—and I have done a lot, at least writing-wise—but I have limits.

After I read about Buckel’s suicide…after I gave serious contemplation about what I really believe in, what my life is worth, what I’m willing to sacrifice for…I just started binging Perfect Strangers on Hulu. I haven’t watched that goddamn show in like two decades, at least. But…I knew my limits. Maybe it’s a copout. But I knew my limits.