Suicide Hotline Must Not Echo Hate

A veteran recalls "88" spray-painted on his Staten Island synagogue--a message of anti-Jewish hate that has been on the rise in NYC and nationally in recent months. This year NYC has seen an 82% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes. Why "88" in particular? H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and the number "88" has been appropriated by violent white supremacists as shorthand for "Heil Hitler."

Recently Staten Island veteran Charles Greinsky pointed out that the proposed 3-digit calling code for the national suicide prevention hotline reminded him of the message of hate spray-painted on his synagogue: 988. He is calling on Congress and the FCC to change the digits to something else. 

We concur. No one should be thinking of messages of violent hate when talking about, reading about, or calling in for suicide prevention resources. The number can and must be changed to another number.

A three-digit number has been under consideration by the FCC for some time. Originally considered was a "911" type number, one that would be easy to remember and spread awareness about. The FCC opted instead for a different kind of number, arriving at 988. The New York Times reports:

Federal telecommunications regulators say that they examined using existing three-digit numbers, known as N11 codes, such as 211, 511 and 611, for the suicide prevention hotline, but ruled that they were not appropriate. In New York City, for example, 311 is a nonemergency hotline for city services.

Kimberly Williams, president and chief executive officer of Vibrant Emotional Health, said in a statement: “We are gratified the F.C.C. report recognizes the need for a 3 digit number dedicated to mental health support as we believe this number will reduce suicides in the United States. That said, we are interested in understanding more as to why a more easily remembered number, such as 611, was not more thoroughly considered. We look forward to learning more about this important consideration.”

We call on the FCC and Congress to reconsider usage of 611. We agree that any 3-digit number would be easier to remember and share than the current number, 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 for veterans), but the final selection should be as universally memorable as possible. 988 simply isn't memorable other than in its echoing of neo-Nazi hate, which is inexcusable. 

Join us in calling on FCC Chair Ajit Pai at Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov or 1-888-225-5322 to reconsider using 611 and selecting a number for the national suicide prevention hotline that does not echo hate.