|Fred "Bubba" Copeland
Longtime Alabama attorney Donald Watkins grew up in a family whose members have distinguished themselves in a variety of fields -- higher education, religion, medicine, science, law, media, banking, business, construction, and more. Along the way, Watkins' family members have been committed to helping those who, due to abuse, misfortune, or health issues have reached a low point in their lives -- including those who have come to see taking their own lives as an option.
This issue has become particularly powerful to Donald Watkins, for a number of reasons. As a leading voice in online investigative journalism, Watkins has written extensively about the subject of suicide -- including, most recently, the death of small-town Alabama mayor Fred "Bubba" Copeland, who took his own life after being exposed in a series of dubious articles at 1819 News about his cross-dressing lifestyle. Throughout his legal career of more than four decades, Watkins has worked on a number of cases where one or more parties was on the verge of suicide -- or wound up taking their own lives.
Those experiences helped prompt Watkins to write an article today at his donaldwatkins.com website under the headline "Number One Lesson from Fred "Bubba" Copeland's Tragic Death: Suicide is NEVER the Answer." Watkins writes:
During the past 30 days, I have written extensively about the media “hit job” that Kenneth Bryan Dawson and 1819 News carried out on Smiths Station, Alabama, Mayor Fred “Bubba” Copeland, which caused Copeland to commit suicide on November 3, 2023. Copeland’s death was facilitated by the publication of information that was impermissibly sourced to Dawson, a career criminal and law-enforcement informant, by a federal law-enforcement agent, in violation of federal statutes and Department of Justice policy guidelines. Copeland's death was the tragic result of a hate crime.
In 2017, I wrote extensive articles about University of Alabama honors student Megan Rondini, who committed suicide in 2015 after she realized that the man she designated as her rapist in a police report would not be prosecuted because his father was a wealthy Crimson Tide football program donor. The criminal justice system in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, failed Megan Rondini. She responded by taking her life. Rondini's tragic death was heartbreaking for millions of Americans.
In 2020, former Alabama state senator E.B. McClain committed suicide after he was targeted by Birmingham federal prosecutors, wrongfully charged with bribery, convicted in a rigged trial, served his sentence, and slumped into a deep depression. The federal criminal justice system failed McClain, who was a modern-era COINTELPRO victim. The COINTELPRO program worked as intended in McClain's case.
In 2012, Soul Train creator, producer, and host Don Cornelius killed himself after enduring serious illnesses, business setbacks, and a nasty divorce. Cornelius had all of the material things in life, but he lacked peace of mind. His death was senseless and preventable.
Watkins also writes about the many instances where suicide became an issue in his legal career:
Over my 50-year career, I have encountered scores of rape and incest victims, media “hit job” victims, COINTELPRO victims, and men, women, and children who were the victims of incessant bullying, physical and/or emotional abuse who either killed themselves to escape this abuse, or who tried to commit suicide.
Working together, we stopped nearly all of these emotionally distraught victims from killing themselves. A few of them were not emotionally able to hold on until we could get them to the "other side of midnight."
Watkins makes it clear that he and his family are serious about helping those who face the possibility that suicide could become an issue in their circle of friends and loved ones, and he sends this straightforward message -- For Those Who are Struggling with Despair and Who are on the Verge of Giving Up -- Please Don't Do It! Watkins goes on to write:
This article is written especially for the victims of abuse who think their lives are not worth living and those who are wallowing in depression while contemplating suicide.
Suicide is NEVER the answer. Whatever the abuse is, we will work with you to stop it and get you the help you need.
Your life matters to us.
We do not denigrate or condemn any person. We uplift all people.
Our family members positively impact the lives of millions of people around the globe on a daily basis. We work in fields of medicine, business, education, energy, human rights, and life sciences.
If you contact a Watkins family member anywhere in the world and ask for help in stopping an abuser from hurting you, he/she will respond immediately.
We are often more effective than a government agency because our help is not dependent on how big and powerful the abuser is. We will level the playing field for you, without hesitation or reservation.
You deserve a chance to live your life, free of the pain and suffering that is inflicted by an abuser.
Our family's blessings in life have come from stopping the abuse of others and from saving lives. “To whom much has been given much is required.” Luke 12:48. Our family understands this Biblical verse and has lived by it for six generations.
We value your life. We love you for who you are, unconditionally. You are never alone. Reach out to a Watkins family member if you start thinking that your life is not worth living. Your happiness is our joy.
Watkins' message is particularly timely. As Axios recently reported, "Number of suicides reached record level last year, CDC says. From the article:
A record number of people in the United States died of suicide last year, while the country's suicide rate reached the highest level in more than 80 years, according to new federal data.
The startling statistics underscore the toll of the nation's mental health crisis coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, amid rising rates of anxiety and depression. But there were some encouraging signs among young people, who were especially affected by the pandemic.
Nearly 50,000 Americans took their own lives last year, a 3% increase from 2021, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. That number is likely to grow when data are finalized, the agency said.
* The suicide rate of 14.3 deaths per 100,000 people was 1% higher than in 2021 and is the highest rate since 1941.
* The suicide rate increased more among females (4%) than males (1%) last year, but men are about four times more likely to die by suicide.
* Suicide rates significantly decreased among younger people — by 18% for kids ages 10-14 and by 9% for people ages 15-24 — possibly indicating that efforts to address the youth mental health crisis are working.
* But the rates increased significantly for most age groups 35 and older, rising the fastest among people ages 55-64 (9%).
* The suicide rate among American Indian and Alaska Native people, while declining 5% last year, remains far higher than any other racial or ethnic group.
Context: Suicides have been steadily increasing this century, prompting U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in 2021 to lay out an updated national strategy for preventing suicide, the federal report notes.
Donald V. Watkins can be reached at: