So, a man in my home state was apparently unhinged enough to commit suicide by dousing himself in gasoline and then lighting a match. According to this article, "he was dead within minutes." This suicide was a political protest staged in front of a New Hampshire courthouse.
What was he protesting? you ask. He was protesting the plight of middle class American men, according to the letter he mailed to the courthouse before committing suicide. You can read his letter, but let me warn you first that the article includes an image of a man burning to death, and also that the article overlooks the significance of Ball's domestic abuse. Now you're forewarned, you can read his letter here (just scroll to the bottom of the article).
I discovered this incident when a friend of mine provided a link to it on facebook, and one of her friends responded by providing the second, sympathetic-to-Ball's-plight link. As I found myself engaged in a debate with her friend, on her wall, I decided it would be better to discuss this issue more fully in this space.
So, here's the deal: this man, Thomas Ball, provides an account that is far more incriminating than he may realize. According to Ball, ten years ago he had a good family and nothing was wrong. However, as he was putting his four-year-old daughter to bed one night, she licked his hand. He hit her in the face hard and long enough to make her bleed. His wife then asked him to leave so that she could calm things down. When he returned home later, he learned that his wife had called the police. He was arrested - though he wasn't held long - and he was not allowed contact with his wife. She filed for divorce, and though he was eventually allowed unsupervised visits with his son, he was not allowed unsupervised visits with his daughters until he agreed to attend counseling. He refused to attend counseling, instead going ten years without unsupervised visitation rights.
According to Ball, his ex-wife later told him that she only called the police after calling one of their children's counselors, who threatened her with charges if she didn't. Ball's reasoning is that his ex-wife must therefore have called the police only because of that threat and not because he did anything wrong. So in his mind, the court mandate that he attend counseling was only adding insult to injury by requiring him to go to one of the counselors responsible for his unjust treatment at the hands of the system. So when he faced a court date for failure to pay child support - which he says resulted from him no longer holding a job - he decided the only reasonable option was to light himself on fire in front of the court and write a letter intended to rally all the men arrested for domestic violence - to rally them to fight back in the war he insists the federal government has been waging against them for 25 years. In his own words:
I could have made a phone call or two and borrowed the money. But I am done being bullied for being a man. I cannot believe these people in Washington are so stupid to think they can govern Americans with an iron fist. Twenty-five years ago, the federal government declared war on men. It is time now to see how committed they are to their cause. It is time, boys, to give them a taste of war.
It would be easy to dismiss Ball as an unhinged man, but many people are surprisingly eager to take his side on this issue. As a member of a Men's Rights group, Ball has become a rallying symbol for other men who feel as if US law has turned against them. For example, the comments section of Antimisandry.com's Newswatch is full of statements to the effect that Ball was victimized in a way that demonstrates how fathers everywhere are victimized. Given that this website's motto is "curing feminist indoctrination," their reaction isn't terribly surprising. But it is troubling. But even moderate takes on the incident overlook the evidence of abuse. For instance, an article on Hypervocal describes Ball as "slightly unbalanced, the kind of man who would set himself on fire rather than pay his wife the $3000 he owed her for child support" and ends by mourning what the court system did to Ball:
There is nothing more tragic than a person that is given the slight push they need to do something so drastic, so incredibly full of hate for themselves, their situation, and a government bureaucracy that was probably over-stepping in the name of doing their jobs.
Slightly unbalanced, you say? "The slight push they need," you say?
So even this more moderate take on the issue overlooks key facts. Let me break down why I think Ball's kids are better off today than they were ten years ago:
1 - Ball admits to child abuse, even if he doesn't call it by that name. He slapped a four-year-old in the face and made her bleed. That's not healthy behavior. Heck, that's even ordinary behavior. That's abuse. That's a clear sign of abuse. He didn't turn her over his knee and give her a spanking - we're not having that kind of debate. He hit her in the face. And she was four.
2 - His wife showed evidence of feeling unsafe. Yes, Ball's letter claims that she only called the police after someone bullied her into it, but not only is that Ball's assumption (I see no statement to that effect from her). No, there's also evidence in his statement that more was at play. Take the fact that she asked him to leave the house while she calmed things down. A woman doesn't ask a man to leave the house so she can calm things down, over him hitting a child, if that woman sees it as the equivalent of a minor spanking. Something was seriously wrong. Add in the fact that she chose to call a counselor and that she got a restraining order that required him to go six months without contacting her - not just the kids, but her, and it's pretty clear she felt unsafe.
3 - Ball had the opportunity to resume unsupervised visits with all his kids, but he chose to forego those visits for ten years, simply because he didn't want to go to counseling. Given all the evidence against him, the court was absolutely right to ask him to go to counseling - some of his sympathizers suggest he needed counseling, and the courts absolutely agreed. He needed counseling. Without it, there was ample evidence that he would endanger his daughters.
4 - Violent, pre-meditated suicide, in response to a three-thousand-dollar debt is not healthy behavior. In fact, that is a gross understatement - it's such unhealthy behavior I don't have adequate words to describe how unhealthy it is. If anything, I'm horrified that such an unhinged and violent person was allowed unsupervised visitation rights with his son.
5. Ball didn't just show aggression and violent tendencies toward himself and his family - he showed it toward the entire legal and court system, by calling other men to arms against the system.
So if you want me to lament over what the court did, you'll be disappointed. Especially given some of the crummy backward steps that New Hampshire's legal system has recently been taking where domestic violence is concerned, I'm impressed by how the courts intervened in this case. If they hadn't, maybe Ball would have taken his family with him.