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Lawyer burns himself to death to protest environmental destruction

He "was all about justice, but he was also all about what it means to be human."

Image Credit: Jose Moreno/AP
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AP PhotoA nationally known civil rights lawyer and environmental advocate died after setting himself on fire in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Saturday to protest environmental destruction.

David Buckel, 60, doused himself with an accelerant before starting a fire that ultimately killed him.

“I apologize to you for the mess,” he wrote in a suicide note he left in a shopping cart near his body, the Daily News reported.

In an emailed copy of the note the New York Times received, he said: “Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result—my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

The Times further reported:

In his note, which was received by the Times at 5:55 a.m., Mr. Buckel discussed the difficulty of improving the world even for those who make vigorous efforts to do so.

Privilege, he said, was derived from the suffering of others.

“Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,” Mr. Buckel wrote, adding that donating to organizations was not enough.

Noting that he was privileged with “good health to the final moment,” Mr. Buckel said he wanted his death to lead to increased action. “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death,” he wrote.

Buckel was the lead attorney in Brandon v. County of Richardson, a lawsuit regarding Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered in Nebraska. Teena’s tragic story was the subject of the Oscar-winning 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, starring Hilary Swank.

The environmental activist was the senior organics recovery coordinator with the NYC Compost Project and worked as an Added Value member at the Red Hook Community Farm. In the video below, Buckel explains how to build a windrow to make rich compost for the local community.

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