Not Just Kate & Anthony: Let’s Talk ICE, Puerto Rico, and Youth of Color

CW: racism, violence against migrant communities, suicide, mental illness, police/ICE brutality

[Text: "Estamos de pie!"  English translation: "We are standing" ]

[Text: "Estamos de pie!" English translation: "We are standing"]

[Note: This post is meant to read as a consolidation of resources, and less of an opinion piece]

Right now, there's a national conversation happening about mental illness and suicide in the United States. While our team is always glad to see our society talk more openly and vulnerably about these topics, it comes off the back of two "high-profile" deaths -- Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain-- rich, white, and famous Americans.

Let's get one thing straight: there was a growing crisis long before Kate and Anthony's deaths; predominately targeting multiply marginalized folks who are struggling against the weights of oppression in America.

As Sarah Astra said in a Facebook post, "In 2018, suicide is not solely about mental illness. It's about the crushing weight of capitalism. It's about the unchecked discrimination marginalized people face every single day. It's about a sociopolitical climate that creates intense fear and anxiety." Suicide is about limited options and limited freedoms.

"Getting help for mental health is not enough. We live in a world where people don't want to live in it anymore. We need to change the world." - @nikkimwalls

So, if all you've been talking about is Kate and Anthony, you are missing something.

1. ICE and migrant communities

On May 13th in South Texas, Marco Antonio Muñoz (a Honduran father) killed himself in a padded cell after being kept in detention, and physically separated from his child and family.

According to the Washington Post, "The death of Marco Antonio Muñoz, 39, has not been publicly disclosed by the Department of Homeland Security, and it did not appear in any local news accounts" though "Starr County sheriff’s deputies recorded the incident as a “suicide in custody.”"

Much news coverage has centered on the traumatic experience of separation for children, but little has focused on what happens to parents, and their experiences of trauma and isolation within detention facilities.

"Unruly detainees typically are taken to local jails, where they can be placed in more secure settings or isolation cells, known as administrative segregation. Border Patrol agents found a vacant cell for Muñoz 40 miles away at the Starr County Jail in Rio Grande City. When they attempted to place Muñoz in the van, he tried to run away and had to be captured and restrained." [The Washington Post]

Another agent familiar with what happened said he couldn’t understand why Muñoz “would choose to separate himself from his family forever” by taking his own life." [The Washington Post]

The hypocrisy is painful.

As Washington Post states, "Several reports of migrants being sent back to Central America while their children remain in U.S. foster care thousands of miles away." So truly, who is "choosing" to permanently separate families? It was not Marco.

Keep reading:

2. Puerto Rico (and Hurricane Maria)

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"Crisis managers at a suicide prevention hotline in Bayamón, near San Juan, receive 500 to 600 calls a day from people around the island in varying stages of desperation. Some callers just want to talk about their loss of home or income or family members who have fled to the mainland USA. Others call with very specific suicide plans." (USA Today)

According to USA Today (citing department statistics), the number of phone calls related to suicide have more than doubled from August to January (2,046 to 4,548). 

"Suicide attempts also have climbed from 782 in August to 1,075 in January, data show." (USA Today)

This is a crisis.
Why isn't anyone talking about it?
The answer is simple:
Some lives are seen as more valuable than others.

And it is not by chance: It is is racism. Xenophobia. Colonialism. Ableism. Heteropatriarchy.

This is violence based on the body.

Counselors at the mental health center at Ponce Health Sciences University (in the southern part of the island) cite a "surge" in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.

"Many callers display acute mental disorientation brought on by Maria. They don’t have basic needs: roof, home, water, electricity ... Their lives have changed.” (USA Today)

3. Black Youth

Ashawnty Davis
Imani McCray
Nakia Venant
Kendrea Johnson
Gabriel Taye
Rylan Thai Hagan

Imani McCray

Imani McCray

Gabriel Taye

Gabriel Taye

Ashawnty Davis

Ashawnty Davis

  • Experts say the increasing suicide rates are a product of the constant oppression young black people face in society. 
  • According to a 2015 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, children’s suicide rates have significantly doubled for Black children in the last two decades, and decreased for White children. [Final Call]
  • For Black youth (ages 10-19), the rate of male suicides (5.59 per 100,000) was three times higher than that of young Black females (1.87 per 100,000), according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. [Final Call]
  • Between the ages of 10 to 15, there is a lot happening: You are going through puberty; your racial identity is developing. Our boys see so many negative racial stereotypes around African-American men. Our girls see toxic images of Black women in our media. When this cultural racism combined with a kid that is shy, has self-esteem issues, has difficulty regulating emotions, or is experiencing other kinds of distress — economic unpredictability, bullying — the risk is elevated. Race is not the only factor, and it’s usually not enough to cause suicide by itself. But there are some kids for whom it amplifies issues that are already existing.”

4. Latinx Teen Girls


"For Latina adolescents coming of age, this is not uncommon. In fact, Latina teens currently have the highest rate of suicide attempts among all adolescent groups in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 youth high-risk behavior survey released earlier this month, 15 percent of Latina adolescents in the U.S. have attempted suicide. That’s compared to 9.8 percent and 10.2 percent for white and black female teens, respectively. Nearly 26 percent of Latina teens considered suicide."  [Univision]

Stefanie Kaufman