Violent Crime and Racial Motivations
Should we be looking at Mental Illness?
My thoughts and prayers are with the suffering families in Buffalo, New York. Please take a personal moment of silence and spend it in reverence to those tragically taken and those who love them and need our prayers.
In four events over the last year, at least 26 people were killed and at least 70 injured in events some have linked to racist motivations. Payton Gendron, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, Frank James, and Darrell Brooks Jr. have been accused and/or already prosecuted for the killing and injuring of innocent people.
As the nation mourns another mass shooting in the city of Buffalo, the media and policy makers need to proceed with a certain caution and avoid inciting the type of responses that only fires-up political rhetoric and incites further violence instead of encouraging a level-headed focus on mental health.
While many are looking at racially motivated reasons for the rampages by Gendron in Buffalo (NY), Al Aliwi Alissa in Boulder, Colorado, James in New York City, and Brooks Jr. in Waukesha, Wisconsin, too few are spending time in sustained talks and actions regarding the mental illness associated with these crises.
Mentally-ill males predicated on killing others is at the core of this issue. And it is reasonable to suggest that most people motivated to kill others based on race, or any reason, are likely suffering from some form of mental illness to a degree.
Of the 172 mass shooters studied by the Violence Project, the group found 69% suffered from mental illness. The Violence Project does not include the actions of those like Brooks Jr., who used a car to run people over. If we include other manifestations of mental illness that result in suicide, alcoholism, and drug addiction, we begin to see disturbing patterns for our nation’s boys and men whose mental health is actualized in destructive ways toward themselves and others.
The Mass Violence Problem
Although those involved in mass-violence incidents mentioned above come from different racial groups, they are male and they are very likely mentally ill. A real concern, however, is the inclination of the media and policy makers to seize on this tragedy in Buffalo and associate the actions of a single gunman (who appears to be motivated by race) as an opportunity to conflate the tragedy as part of a rabid white supremacy. This type of race baiting is dangerous and distracts us from talking about male mental health concerns in America and the victims of mass violence impacted by its neglect.
When we talk about mass shootings and other mass-violence incidents, it’s important to have perspective. These types of conversations must acknowledge the following premise: The overwhelming majority of boys and men are not harmful in any way and it’s important that we share that message as we discuss the mental health issues that do result in tragic events. Our culture presents men as inherently violent even though statistics do not bear it out. Of the approximately 132 million males 15 and over in the U.S., less than 0.0068% will ever commit a violent crime that results in death and less than 0.36% will ever be involved in any violent crime according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Data Explorer. If we account for mental health, the already small percentage of men who commit violent crime for reasons other than mental health decreases even further.
Jill Peterson of the Violence Project, an organization that tracks mass shootings said the following in a National Public Radio piece:
"Men just are generally more violent," said the group's president, Jillian Peterson, a forensic psychologist and professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University. "There are many theories as to why that is."
Although the context of the interview was “Why Nearly All Mass Shooters Are Men,” there is no distinction between violent male criminal acts and the overwhelming male population not involved in such acts. Culture has associated maleness with violence. As a result, a cultural ethos is perpetuated under the guise of men as “inherently more violent” that leaves the impression of a society where male violence is a prevalent and inherently biological flaw. It is fair to say, however, that men do commit more violent crimes and statistics bear this out. It is also fair to say that men are more likely to die saving others or providing for families, including the professions of law-enforcement, firefighters, and a host of other professions. (Statistics bear this out).
In another mass shooting incident on Sunday in Southern California, Dr. John Cheng sacrificed his life so that others could live.
According to witnesses, Cheng charged the suspect, 68-year-old David Chou of Las Vegas in an attempt to disarm him, which allowed other parishioners to intervene. A pastor threw a chair at Chou and they were able to hogtie him before law enforcement arrived.
Yet, the cultural ethos rarely distinguishes the actions of mentally ill outliers from an entire race and sex of people. The shooting in Buffalo becomes an act of white supremacy and not the act of a racist individual likely suffering from mental illness. The same is true of the car-incident in Waukesha. The perceived threats of white supremacy, black supremacy, and other conventional images of men of other races overshadows the statistical realities when it comes to hate crimes, race, and mental illness.
Hate Crime Data
The data below provides some quantitative information when it comes to understanding hate crimes and other incidents of violent crime.
Disaggregating the data above is essential in understanding the reasons behind violent crime in the U.S. and attempting to identify solutions. While whites commit more mass shootings, they represent a much larger percentage of the male population.
From 2000 to 2020,
White males accounted for approximately 62% of the male population and 49% of male mass shooters.
Black males accounted for approximately 11-12% of the male population and accounted for 20% of the male mass shooters.
Asian males accounted for 8.5 of the mass shooters.
Although blacks are disproportionately involved in mass shootings, associating violence with race only conflates a harmful social narrative. 70% of all shooters had a diagnosed mental illness. A review of shooters in the Violence Project database from 2000 to 2020 shows that 80% of white male shooters, 75% of Asian shooters, and over 50% of black shooters had some form of mental illness that ranged from mood disorders to thought disorders. The lower number of black males with diagnosed mental illness may have something to do with the statistically lower percentage of those who are comfortable or able to seek mental health services according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Social Perceptions about Mass Violence and Males
Simply ask a person what percentage of males between the ages of 15 and over commit a violent crime in the U.S. and the responses are startling. Although I’ve never conducted an official poll, I have asked random people the following question: What percent of U.S. males 15 and over have committed a violent crime? I’ve received answers as high as 40% and as low as 5%. Even the lowest number dramatically misrepresents the statistical reality: 99.5% of men will never commit a violent act of crime.
But as the rhetoric regarding mass-violence incidents heats up, civil minded leaders need to step forward to focus so much more on mental health and seize the opportunity to address it with the type of attention it deserves.
Have we ever had a sustained national conversation about mental health and males without trying to denounce masculinity?
Are we prepared to address the numerous factors that contribute to mental health and the lack of resources to boys and men?
Have we ever expressed that more than 99.5% of men will never commit a violent act of crime?
I know the answers to the questions above are rhetorical, but they can no longer be so.
The mass shooting in Buffalo is a national tragedy that also needs to address the mental health crisis of men in America. Although racially motivated killings have declined, it does not mean the racist motivations of Payton Gendron and Darrell Brooks Jr. are not real. One has to wonder, though, if Gendron’s earlier desire to shoot up his high school (which is 88% white, 5% Hispanic, 3% black, 3% multiracial, and 1% Asian) was his first attempt at exercising his violent nature, only to be derailed by a temporary mental restraint but not a real solution for someone clearly on the path of destruction and suffering mental illness. Gendron was rife for this type of killing because it allowed his untreated, internalized rage to sit dormant until he could find an outlet for his sickness, and it was a majority of black Americans who suffered in its wake.
Policy makers and main stream media need to spend considerably more time and resources on the mental health of males and do so in a way that does not marginalize masculinity but addresses male mental health in a way that protects all of us.
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