What can we make of Dylann Roof's motivation for turning a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, into a bloodbath? Many have speculated about his mental health and wondered, "Is this the kind of thing only a crazy person could do?"
The answer is no. Most crazy people are non-violent, and statistics prove this fact. According to the American Psychiatric Association, "the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness."
So why is social media abuzz with cries of crazy?
Roof may have mental health issues, and no doubt he will be thoroughly psychologically tested. But can we say that the primary motivation of the slayings was a psychotic episode, where Roof went crazy in a Bible study?
There are dangers in this approach. First, crying crazy in response to every mass shooting significantly adds to the stigma and shame around mental illness. My loved ones and friends who live with mental health disorders are not mass murderers. To claim that people with mental illness are prone to violence is not only false, it is harmful.
According to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services, the discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness stems in part from the general public's misconception about the link between mental illness and violence. Tragically, according to the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, people with psychiatric disabilities such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than the general public.
The other serious danger is that for white people, calling it crazy is an easy way out of the uncomfortable and disturbing conversation about the messed-up state of race relations in America.
I notice that it's mostly white people who are wanting (so badly) to cover this up with mental illness. I hear from other whites, "he was a loner...he was a drop out...he was lost." This frames Roof as the victim of a bad economy and poor education, sort of an "unlucky guy." What is alarming about this rationale by whites is how oblivious it is to the gut-wrenching reality of whites killing blacks just because, at all levels of authority, from police officers to kids like Roof.
What the world witnessed on night of June 17 is the kind of American terrorism that white supremacy creates in a country so ensnarled in centuries of racism born out of slavery and oppression. Roof's primary motivation for the slayings was his hatred of black people, and his logic was in keeping with the extreme ideology of white supremacy.
I have yet to hear a black person claim that the slayings were motivated by mental illness. This causes me to wonder why as whites we are in such denial about the primary role of race in this case. Why do we cry crazy when the murderer is a white man and cry terrorist or thug when it's a person of color?
My two cents: in the main, this is about a society that allows white supremacy and hate groups to run unchecked, without any accountability. We have become a country where it's unsafe to be a person of color, or perhaps it has always been.
Let's stop crying crazy every time a white person pulls the trigger.
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