“Clearly, it’s a mental health issue.” Those are the words of Donald Trump, president of the United States, responding to the mass killings in El Paso, Texas, and 13 hours later, in Dayton, Ohio.
Calling these acts of violence a mental health issue serves a purpose, it places these acts, historically committed by white men over 95% of the time, as abhorrent acts, not reflective of white men. It is similar to explaining the frequent killing of black men by white cops as due to some bad apples in the police force rather than confront the deeply seated racism that exists in police departments as it does with the public generally. The use of the mental health rationale is less incriminating than confronting the realities of our racist, violent society for these crimes.
How many times have we heard officials refer to or invoke it as an act of terrorism when a Muslim is found to have committed or attempted to commit an act of violence? We never consider that the Muslim perpetrator is in need of psychiatric help for mental illness whereas, the white men are automatically portrayed as aberrations to the white race. We are not terrorists.
While some of these acts of terror are not ethnically focused, many are. In El Paso, a community which lies on the border with Mexico, there is a large Mexican or Latino population which is why the shooter, Patrick Crusius, drove for 9 hours to carry out his murderous mission. Crusius has made it clear through his writings that he is a white supremacist, a movement that has been gaining more and more impetus in the last few years. Racist violence is increasing as white supremacists have been coming out of the sewers to make their presence known. So, for “our” president to declare these recent attacks as mental health issues is misleading.
Racism is in the fabric of American society. It should be noted that, the American Psychiatric Association has refused to include racism as a mental illness because it’s a normal part of American life. If a behavior is normal, it cannot be seen as an illness.
What of the mass murders in Dayton? Whereas, the killings do not appear to be motivated by racial hatred, the perpetrator, Connor Betts, has a history of misogynist attitudes, threatening to kill or rape women. Considering that we, in the US, live in a patriarchal society, men with these thoughts about women, which are reflective of the norm, could hardly be considered mentally ill. It should be noted that the role of women among the white nationalists is most often one of subservience.
Let us turn our attention to why the sewer rats, the white supremacists, have risen from below. Donald Trump is not responsible for the existence of racism… it existed well before he took office. But it has been his rhetoric during the past three years that has encouraged the white racists and fascists to feel free to openly express their hatred for the “others.” It has been reported that counties in which Trump held political rallies had racial incidents increase by 226%. Trump has portrayed those who have come to the US from below our southern border as drug dealers, rapists, prostitutes, men and women who will steal jobs from American workers, etc. He has insulted African countries, gays, women, and people of color that live here in the US. If these attacks on communities, that do not fit the expectations of the racist, are mental health issues, what does that say about our insulter-in-chief?
What is it about the US that has allowed it to lead the rest of the world in incidents of mass murder? The US has the Second Amendment to its constitution which has been interpreted by many to give every citizen the right to own at least one gun.
Then, we have the “stand your ground” legislation which has been embraced in several states. Under this legislation, if you feel threatened, real or imagined, you have the right to defend yourself with a gun or any other weapon.
The US has the highest rate per capita, relative to other countries, of its citizens incarcerated. Because of the rampant racism in the US, most of those incarcerated are African-American and Latino despite the fact that they make up a minority of the country’s population. Speaking of the “justice” system, let me mention that the US has refused to outlaw the death penalty despite growing evidence that many innocent people have been put to death by the state. In other words, life is not all that sacrosanct in the US.
The US has developed the most powerful military force in human history. The American people have passively watched as their government ignored the sovereignty of other countries and sent troops into those countries to help overthrow governments, fired missiles into these countries that killed tens of thousands of innocent citizens, used drones to fly over targets and fire missiles, again killing innocent people, provided the financial and weapons support of criminal regimes in Israel and Saudi Arabia that are engaged in genocidal actions against the Palestinians and Yemenis.
It is in the US where local governments militarized their police departments when the military made available powerful murderous weapons to be used against the people of the US.
Most people have responded to these acts of mass murder by calling for gun control. Yes, there should be a process of registration for those who wish to purchase a gun; there should be a background check to ensure that the applicant does not have a history of violence, racism, or misogyny; yes, there is no need for any citizen to own an assault rifle and they should be banned. But the problem is complex, as I’ve tried to illustrate and it cannot be resolved merely by controlling gun purchases.
If we can accept that cars can potentially be deadly weapons and require the passing of a driving test as well as a written test in order to get a license, why is it so difficult to establish the same procedure for guns? Why is the NRA more powerful than the auto corporations?
We live in a primitive, violent country, a country that has established itself as the leading terrorist organization in the world. Our “heroes” are men and women who have been sent around the world and committed acts of violence. We give our children video games, many of which, have one purpose and one purpose only… to engage the children in acts of violence. I often think of the US drone program that allows the computer operator who will, at some point, fire missiles into a crowd of people. For him or her, the act may be nothing more than another video game.
When you live by the sword, you die by the sword. We cannot commit violence around the world and expect to escape violence right here at home.
So, the problem will not be resolved until we deal honestly with all the components, racism, misogyny, and militarism with its agenda of imperialism that contribute to these acts of violence and mass murders domestically.
Dave Alpert has master’s degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner-city adolescents.