May 27, 2014 Leave a comment
I live in the Columbine Generation. I’ve seen so many mass shootings in my life that they have sadly become commonplace. Every several months, and I fully realize how fucked up this is to say, but every few months they occur in a near predictable way. With few exceptions, the perpetrator is generally a straight, white, male. Also generally upper or upper-middle class.
We naturally look for an explanation when these things occur. We look at these individuals’ backgrounds, their families, their social groups, etc. We conclude that they were isolated, struggled to connect with people, depressed, clearly suffering from severe mental illness.
And that’s where I stop. I stop for so many reasons. Unqualified talking heads making judgments about mental illness with absolutely no understanding of what they’re saying. Almost never do they invite a qualified psychologist to speak on the subject. Pundits then go into this long history of what warning signs should have been seen and by who and subtly trying to place blame, but placing blame is apparently outdated so they talk about “faults in the system.” Then they go into gun control, because that dead horse is apparently still worth beating.
But why do we always look to mental illness for these shootings? These privileged men had to have been missing something. They must have been on the fringe in some way. One of the “out group” in some way. Because the man that murdered so many innocents can’t be the same as the man that judges him on the television. So what minority can we shove him in? Because he can’t be “one of us.” So we smack on the “mentally ill” label, and we feel better. We are once again secure in knowing that the shooter is “one of them.” Different. Not us.
Beyond being a member of the Columbine Generation, I also live in Chicago. I live in a city where murders occur practically every day. And yet, we don’t talk about mental illness. In fact, we close down mental health facilities and talk about gangs and “urban crime.” We ignore the fact of trauma and trauma-related disorders because we have something more convenient already.
I’m not saying that these spree killers didn’t have mental illnesses, but I wouldn’t be stupid enough to open my mouth and say that they did without evidence either. I do agree with the plethora of articles out there that talk about the impact of privilege on spree killers.
I’m a systemic person. I need to just get a Bronfenbrenner tattoo because it would save me time in explaining this fucking circle.
But really, we need to stop looking for the quick explanation in mass murders. I don’t like being the Columbine Generation. I don’t like that I can name over a dozen mass killings off the top of my head. But if we want them to actually stop, we need to look at it systemically and stop screaming “Mental Illness!” at each other. Because clearly this does nothing. And it ignores the murders that occur on the streets every day (kinda like the news).