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Comments: Week of July 9, 2018

1. New York’s most recent cover story, by Gabriel Debenedetti, addressed many Democrats’ urgent plea, “Where Is Barack Obama?” (June 25–July 8), and shed light on what it would take for him to step back into the fray. Commenter Matt Drabek praised the ex-president’s strategy: “Obama is largely staying out, and he’s smart to do so. It would be almost impossible for Obama to insert himself into any political debate without immediately making that debate about himself.” But the fray is never far away: @kathlovestennis tweeted, “Good read. But Pres. O told folks about the horror of Trump. ‘My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot.’ Millions listened. A certain demographic didn’t.” @ThatPamcake advised, “I get it. We love him; we miss him; we want him back. But what would we expect @BarackObama to do — save America from Trump? That’s not up to him. It’s up to us, starting in November. It’s called voting.” And @britbandfan tweeted, “It frustrates me to see so many on Twitter (like @ggreenwald) respond to every criticism of the current admin with
‘… but Obama,’ like he was as destructive as Trump. That’s ridiculous.” Reflecting on the stakes, Jeet Heer at The New Republic wrote, “ ‘Ex-President works on memoir’ might seem like a ‘sun rises in the east’ story. But the addled nature of the Trump era is such that Obama’s decision to follow the well-worn path of earlier presidents has been a fraught choice. [His] optimism is actually a gamble, a wager that America is so fundamentally strong that it will correct itself even if Obama stays away from the political fray.”

2. John H. Tucker reported on Darcell Marshall’s rape and the 306 other sexual-misconduct allegations made in the last two years at Rikers Island’s female facility (“Rape at Rosie’s,” June 25–July 8). Patrick Gaspard of the Open Society Foundations tweeted, “New York must shut down this cesspool of human rights violations.” The Legal Aid Society’s Josh Goldfein added, “You will be shaking with rage long before you get to the end of this account.” Reader @scottevill tweeted, “Rikers has the rep, but this can’t be far from the status quo at every women’s prison in the country.” Just Detention International shared the story, writing, “This chilling piece on staff sexual misconduct at Rikers is a reminder of how the total control that officers have over inmates, including access to basic items, can be a recipe for abuse.” Commenter jd2870, dismissive of the inmates’ plight, wrote, “Tough to get too worked up over … prostitutes and other female criminals admit to consensual acts and then claim rape when they file suit against the city — purely in the pursuit of justice, I’m sure. But yeah, the guards should be thrown under the bus for their statutory violation, consensual or not,” to which cyaff responded, “If not consenting puts your basic human rights at risk, it is rape. Guards are withholding food and toilet paper from women who won’t have sex with them … This is absolutely something to ‘get worked up over.’ ”

3. Melissa Fay Greene’s reflection on her son’s impulsive suicide cast light on a misunderstood condition (“The Last Person on Earth,” June 25–July 8). Kersten Wehde wrote, “I frequently think about my own brother’s final thoughts  —  he hung himself almost four years ago, with no warning at all (his text to me the evening before: ‘We just played Pictionary. And my team won yaya!!!!’) … I really appreciate your publishing a story about impulsive suicide; I’d never known that was a possibility. People assumed we missed flags, so I decided they were right. They’d ask me, ‘Were you two close?’ I always heard it with the subtext, ‘How close could you really have been, to be caught this flat-footed?’ … Pieces like this — honest, open, painful — help me.” Dr. Megan Spokas at La Salle University responded, “I was moved by Melissa Fay Greene’s willingness to share her tragedy in the hopes of offering a more nuanced understanding of death by suicide. She accurately described a distinction between people who make premeditated versus impulsive suicide attempts. My colleagues and I have interviewed individuals who have survived suicide attempts and find that 43% of them make attempts impulsively and they are often less depressed and hopeless than those who made premeditated attempts. Researchers are increasingly recognizing that not all individuals show the typical warning signs of suicide and many attempts are made with little planning in the midst of a short-term crisis. When possible, restricting access to lethal means is one of the most effective deterrents to suicide. Beyond that, changing the stigma associated with mental-health treatment and asking for help are community-based prevention strategies that give each one of us responsibility in preventing these tragic losses.”