To the editor:
I’m writing in response to the article regarding John Constantino, 64, of Mount Laurel, who set himself on fire on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 4. The article stated, "Joggers took off their shirts in an effort to help douse the flames." This counters the popular perception of the bystander effect. I’m sure we’ve all seen someone who could use a hand, but just assumed another witness would assist; the probability of help is inversely related to the amount of people present.
Since this was such an unusual emergency, once one jogger began assisting, others fell in line. This is an example of altruism in our society that we do not often see in the media. Much information presented in the news in the last year has affirmed our beliefs about the bystander effect. It is refreshing to see people helping people.
The attorney who is representing Mr. Constantino’s family released a statement emphasizing this was not a political act, but the result of a long battle with mental illness. The family is shocked and describes the incident as “a personal family matter and not an issue of public concern.” While I understand the family’s need for respect from the media, they should know their private troubles could truly be seen as a public issue. Mentally ill individuals are overrepresented in prisons. They account for many 911 calls to the police due to suspect behavior and, once in prison, these individuals are not treated with adequate care. Mentally ill individuals need preemptive support to reduce these occurrences.
My heart goes out to Mr. Constantino’s family and I hope they remember they can find comfort in the fact that they are not alone.
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