John McCusker, a photographer on the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning staff, was seen driving wildly through the city Tuesday, attracting the attention of police, reports the Associated Press. He was arrested, but not before he was subdued with a Taser and an officer fired twice at his vehicle. During the melee, he begged police to kill him. One officer suffered minor injuries. James Arey, commander of the police department’s SWAT negotiating team, can understand why McCusker seemingly snapped. “There are all these things you’re trying to deal with in your own life – not enough insurance, family problems, your health problems,” said Arey, who knows McCusker. “And then day in and day out, we get to see the wreckage of our city and people’s lives. It’s not easy to handle.”
Stress is keeping law enforcement officers in New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish busy these days, as they answer many more calls than before the storm for domestic abuse, drunkenness, and fights. Involuntary commitments to mental hospitals are up from last year, and suicides in Orleans Parish have tripled since Katrina. Psychologists say it’s likely to get worse as the anniversary of the Aug. 29 storm approaches, sparking post-traumatic trauma in those who suffered losses. McCusker, a Times-Picayune photographer for 20 years, was being held for observation and had not been charged late Wednesday. Suicide rates in New Orleans have nearly tripled in the 11 months since the storm. Experts blame an epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress that crosses all socio-economic lines.