I seem to be one of the few liberal-ish people who thinks that the Arizona shooting had more to do with mental illness than politics, and I think it is kind of ironic that a great majority of the Left is talking about “dangerous” rhetoric while simultaneously throwing pejoratives about mental illness and the mentally ill around like “crazy.” Everything from “nutter” to “nutjob” to “lunatic,” “crazies,” “wacko” and every other euphemism for the mentally ill that you can think of—except a plain “mentally ill.” If the Left is really so worried about a culture of bad rhetoric, then I say they should go all the way or go home. In other words, stop calling mentally ill people disrespectful names (of course, the Right is rampant with this too). This kind of vilification of the mentally ill does exactly what the Left is talking about the rhetoric of gunning people down does—it objectifies people and dismisses their humanity. But, I guess that it is okay to diss the crazies, because we aren’t really people afterall are we? We are just wild animals that need to be chained and shot for the good of everyone. Well, that is what a lot of people seem to believe, especially when something tragic happens like the shooting in Arizona. What happened in Arizona was wrong and awful, but despite peoples’ desires to paint the tragedy into black and white terms where there is good on one side and evil on another, in reality the good and evil don’t exist. They are words we’ve made up to downplay and deny the complexities of situations that we have a difficult time understanding. We can do better.
*the pic is a high school yearbook pic of the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, that was posted at ajc.com
*** Update 1/9/2011 to Clear Up Confusion: I am in no way advocating that the shooter be given a free pass and let go to go out and commit more killings. That is not what this post is about.***
The dust has not yet settled in the horrific shooting in Tuscon, Arizona where many people were injured and several were killed by a gunman who open fired on a group gathered outside a Safeway to participate in a meeting with Congresswoman Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. Already people are lining up on each side of their political fence to throw the blame at one another for inciting violence in “the crazies,” but what I fear will probably be lost in all of this is that it probably has nothing to do with politics and more to do with a lone shooter who was most likely mentally ill and set adrift in a gun-toting culture of violence that doesn’t want to deal with the “problem” of mentally ill people, let alone the stigma of it all.
If it turns out that the gunman is mentally ill, there will likely be no discussion about the real issues related to mental health care for people who are seriously ill, and the media will again brandish a VIOLENT person as a representative of what mental illness is. I checked out what is reported to be the gunman’s youtube page: Classitup10 who is supposedly Jared Lee Loughner and his videos are filled with the kind of nonsensical, paranoid ramblings classic in mental illness, especially untreated schizophrenia. If these are in fact his videos, and if he is mentally ill (which is all conjecture at this point: Jan. 8, 2011, 3:30pm), I wonder and fear how this will play out in the media and how it will play out in the courtroom.
Of course, my sympathies are for the people killed and injured and their families, but it would also be tragic if this entire situation was blown up into a political football that people just pass back and forth. If we could come to learn more about the real reasons for violence in our society and possibly learn something real about mental health care and stigma, perhaps all would not be lost. I am not crossing my fingers though.
* below is another pic from the same source of Jared Lee Loughner in 2010.