America’s Greatest Mental Illness

Thursday, June 18, 2015 is a day Charleston and the nation will never forget. While hosting bible study, Reverend Clementa Pinckney and eight parishioners were gruesomely murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  As the facts of the case are still presenting themselves, one assertion that has been made is that the shooter, Mr. Dylan Roof, was “mentally ill”. The truth is that the culprit was indeed a mentally ill man. The mental illness that he suffers from is racism. There is no logical or scientific explanation that can justify a sane human being horrifically and mercilessly taking the life of another human being simply because he or she disfavored another’s racial background.

Unfortunately, the culprit is plagued with the same mental illness that many other Americans have as well. There are many racist incidents even within this case alone that support this argument. First, immediately following this incident, many people took strong stances on various justification points for why this deranged man might have attacked these innocent people. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum stated that this crime was simply an “assault on religious liberty.” Others have humanized him and labeled him a victim of mental illness–and not the kind I was referring to previously. The racism here lies in the fact that no evidence whatsoever leaned towards any of the assertions that any of these critics are implying. In fact, the culprit, Mr. Dylan Roof himself said that he was attempting to start a “race war.” Another racially-motivated act occurred when the mayor, Joseph Riley referred to the shooter as “one hateful person.” Although this may have not been intentional prejudice, there are subtle racist indications that can be deduced from this statement. Anthea Butler, in her article in the Washington Post, masterfully presented and supported this point. She expounded on how when Whites commit heinous crimes such as these, they are detached from their larger white race–which explains the Mayor’s emphasis on the word “one”–and they are given sole responsibly for their actions. At least, when they are not being given the scapegoat of mental illness. However, when Blacks or Muslims commit the same crimes, it is often labeled systemic, and a problem infected by the race at large, rather than attributed to that one person’s mental state. Last but not least, one of the points that has seldom been talked about is the officers in the case. They handled this case exactly how cops should. Even though the culprit proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he possessed a lethal weapon and was more than ready to use it, he was given the courtesy and decency of being apprehended, so that his life could be determined in the court of law and not by the mouths of a the officers’ guns.  Interestingly, the culprits in the Aurora Theater shooting and Newtown middle school shooting both received this same level of courtesy and decency. My only wish is that Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Tamar Rice, and countless others could have been afforded this same opportunity of courtesy and decency.

America has suffered from this mental illness for way too long. Yes, as a country we have indeed come a long way. However, we must not confuse progress with arrival. Unless we address this issue with, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says, the “fierce urgency of now,” America will become the greatest enemy of its own self interest. As the late Dr. King also stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

By:  Gabriel Carter

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