The events of last weekend weigh heavily on us. The shocking news of Susan Howe’s death on Friday night in Truro exploded in headlines and broadcasts from Hyannis and Boston to New York and across the country and world. Her son Adam’s death in a New Bedford jail cell on Sunday multiplied the tragedy.
The news stories were many but numbingly similar, repeating the few terrible details that had been disclosed in District Attorney Michael O’Keefe’s press releases.
As we search for some meaning in these events and what they reveal about us as a society, we can’t avoid looking closely at the professions of law enforcement and journalism.
Here, we have been asking ourselves: What is the role of a local weekly newspaper in such circumstances? What can we or should we add to what has already been drummed ceaselessly into our minds about these heartbreaking facts? What purpose does our repeating them serve?
The dozens of news reports about Susan and Adam make it clear why so many people say they hate the press. Cloaked in their “objectivity,” reporters, editors, and producers in distant newsrooms and television studios revel in recounting what details they can about the deaths of people they don’t know and have no relationship to. There may be nothing amiss about their reporting except the question of purpose. Why does someone reading Newsweek need this news?
Here in our small towns, the Howes are neighbors and colleagues, with families and friends in networks to which we are all connected. Their suffering is not entertainment to us. It is all too real. Watching it become a headline in the New York Post or the Daily Mail provided neither comfort nor answers to the questions that remain.
Last week, K.C. Myers wrote about the failure of our county jail to provide treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, the main causes of violent crime here. And the story of Adam Howe’s treatment once he was in custody, reported this week by Myers, raises questions at least as important as inquiries into the experiences that led to his breakdown, his awful crime, and his suicide.
Why did officials at Bridgewater State Hospital, where Adam had been ordered sent by a judge at 3 a.m. on Saturday, refuse to admit him and instead insist that he be put in jail? Why did the Barnstable County sheriff not answer the phone when officers at Cape Cod Hospital tried to reach him? Why was D.A. O’Keefe unable to arrange secure treatment for Adam? After all, he had time to put the details of Susan’s death in a press release and get it out to the world. Why did Adam end up in what is widely regarded as the most poorly run county jail in the state, where guards left him to take his own life?
Stepping back from these unknowns, I recall Dennis Minsky’s words last week, about what we need to find a way through winter’s darkness: “We need each other.”