As I write this, I can only begin to imagine the number of people who have jumped to the conclusion that the shooter at the Charleston AME Church was mentally ill. By this time tomorrow, even if the shooter has not been caught, we will hear the pundits debating what kind of disability afflicted the shooter. Undoubtedly there will be more calls for Forced Outpatient Treatment.
There are a few things to keep in mind before we turn Charleston into our reason-to-support-Murphy’s-Law-of-the-day:
- We have no idea who the shooter is at this point, except that he is white and in his twenties or thirties.
- South Carolina has “Assisted” Outpatient Treatment. So even if he was mentally ill, the much ballyhooed program sure as hell didn’t prevent anything here.
- The man had a gun that let him kill a lot of people including a state senator.
- White supremacist activity has been on the rise.
Rest assured that the NRA — which backs the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act — will blame this on mental illness at the earliest possible press conference. We’re the scapegoat for this kind of thing every time it happens.
Mental illness is a comfortable explanation for many. It allows them to deny the roots of violence in themselves and in Society at large. The average white American will swear up and down that he is not racist, but he will buy guns to protect himself from black people, laugh at black jokes, and praise police officers who shoot unarmed black teenagers in the street. Racism is not a mental illness: it is a product of living in a privileged society. And we all are entangled in it whether we want to admit to it or not.
I despair at mentioning the statistics one more time, the ones that show that we who live with mental illness are 11 times more likely to be victims than we are to be the perpetrators. We are less likely to be violent than our sane peers — unless we drink, then our numbers soar as they do with the sane — but one incident such as this and suddenly everyone is down at Walmart buying guns to shoot us. No one does the math, no one calculates the probabilities, that show that even these killers are less of a threat than the sane police officers who have gunned down more than a thousand people so far this year. We don’t want to confront the stupid libertarian passion for arming everyone with assault rifles that made it possible for this man to buy this gun, then pick off not just one or two people at the fringes of the crowd, but the whole congregation. We buy the NRA line that more guns will make things safer. And we stand by saying nothing as 13 of their lobbyists tell Congresspeople that the problem isn’t guns, but mental illness.
So once more, I have a target on my back. I peek out my front door and worry about my neighbors knowing about my illness. Whole relationships change when they have the knowledge of this infirmity of mine. They, too, look for someone to blame who isn’t themselves. So they use me, Mr. Convenient Target, because by painting me with this stripe, they don’t have to consider the darkness within them that denies their culpability in the racist state of American affairs.