As I think most of us are aware at this point, a tragic incident occurred in Arizona this weekend; a shooter opened fire on a crowd of people attending a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event in Tucson hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Six people were killed, numerous people were injured, and the Congresswoman was gravely wounded. As soon as news about the shooting broke, I thought ‘oh great, here comes the rampant speculation about the shooter’s mental health status.’
That speculation happened. So did a lot of great writing pushing back on stereotypes and beliefs about mental illness and violent crime. Here’s a selection.
s.e. smith at The Guardian: Comment is free America: ‘Psycho killer’? The Jared Lee Loughner case brings out the usual abuse
The consequences of linking acts of unconscionable violence to mental illness in the absence of information are twofold.
Cabell at Cabell rhymes with “Scrabble”: Discussion of an assassination: ableism & the failure of sociological understanding
This is, at its heart, a failure of sociological imagination, a failure of our “ability to recognize the relationship between large-scale social forces and the actions of individuals” (C. Wright Mills).
Vaughan Bell at Slate: Crazy Talk: We’re too quick to use “mental illness” as an explanation for violence
This presumed link between psychiatric disorders and violence has become so entrenched in the public consciousness that the entire weight of the medical evidence is unable to shift it.
Jill Filipovic at Feministe: On mental illness and crime
Certainly, some people with mental illnesses do commit crimes — but that shouldn’t really surprise us, since people with mental illnesses are people, and some people commit crimes.
Amanda Marcotte at Reproductive Health Reality Check: Giffords Shooting Raises Questions About Mental Health Care
But beyond the political and environmental questions of motivation, one thing really should be clear from the New York Times profile of Loughner—at this point in time, he seems to be another example of someone who slipped through the cracks.
Martin Robbins at The Guardian: Diagnosing Arizona: the quest for the mind of Jared Lee Loughner
In this instance the most powerful narrative to emerge after the shooting was the idea that Loughner was mentally ill; a crazed lone gunman unleashing his insanity on the unsuspecting world.
I’m glad to see so many people specifically engaging with the tendency to immediately link mental illness and violent crime, and to take that a step further when talking about how social systems play a role in events like this. If the alleged shooter is in fact mentally ill, he didn’t get to a Safeway parking lot by himself on Saturday; policies and social attitudes about mental health contributed to make it harder for him to access treatment and support. The outpouring of commentary in response to this event reflects a shift in thinking about mental illness and society; not that long ago, this conversation wouldn’t have been possible at all.
Related, though not specifically about this case, is the three part series by Anna at FWD/Forward discussing mental health and the justice system: part one on criminal courts, part two on victims, and part three on civil court.