On Crime, Crazy and Culture

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criminal justice

From the New York Times:

In a recent paper on gun violence and mental illness (also discussed at Op-Talk last week), Dr. Metzl and Kenneth T. MacLeish write that in the 1960s and ’70s, “when the potential assailants of a crime were Black, U.S. psychiatric and popular culture frequently blamed ‘Black culture’ or Black activist politics — not individual, disordered brains — for the threats such men were imagined to pose.”

When crimes are committed by white shooters, Dr. Metzl told Op-Talk, “there is a prevailing cultural narrative that tries to localize the question of what caused this or what is to blame to the pathologies of an individual white brain.” After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “there was a push to talk about Adam Lanza’s brain and his DNA, and talk about it in terms of individual mental illness.” But in the case of a black shooter, some in America have shown a tendency toward “defining black crime more broadly in terms of black culture,” a tendency he sees in recent rhetoric “that links this individual and by all accounts senseless crime, and a crime that wasn’t supported by any of the main political protest movements, to those very protest movements.”

Remember the Isla Vista shootings? Remember how quickly the entire Right absolved male entitlement and pickup culture and chose to say Elliot Rodger was just mentally ill?

But when a violent black man with a long criminal record randomly murders two police officers, it’s the fault of protests. Or black culture. Or anything but the mental state of that one man.

The problem here is that it’s not an either-or. Someone driven to extreme actions probably is in some extreme mental state. But which state? The only “excuse” in my book is out-and-out psychosis. I realized last spring that the people claiming Elliot Rodger was just “mentally ill” had no grasp of what psychosis is. Psychotics don’t just believe things that are odd or not mainstream; they believe things that are utterly nonsensical — Algebra is a green octopus. Your aura is eating my head. That kind of thing.  Here’s a good description of what psychosis is like.

However, it’s also the case that people who are angry or agitated or spoiling to do something awful might seize on issues in the news and weave them into their personal myths. The NY Times article continues,

Mr. Brinsley did apparently make Instagram posts referring to Michael Brown and Eric Garner. However, said Dr. Metzl, “there is often some sort of political connection to senseless crimes, at least in the narratives of the people who try to justify their senseless acts.”

“People who might be at risk or imbalanced in some way certainly coopt these messages and take them on as their own personal rhetoric to commit violence,” he explained. “But to me it’s a mistake to take that connection literally and to say that that is a reflection of the protest movement itself, when clearly what’s happening is a very pathological use of that language for a very different set of means and ends.”

People who are not psychotic but who are prone to anger or fear and harbor a desire to harm others can be pushed into violent acts by inflammatory rhetoric or by soaking in a hateful culture. Such a person might be driven to kill women (and men who love them) or Jews or Sikhs mistaken for Muslims.  That’s why inflammatory and hateful rhetoric is irresponsible, especially coming from public officials or people in media. If someone like Bill O’Reilly goes on and on for years demonizing and reviling someone like Dr. George Tiller, it’s almost inevitable that someone will, sooner or later, act on that rhetoric and murder George Tiller. It’s a wonder it didn’t happen sooner, in fact.

So, Mayor de Blasio has responsibly called for everyone to chill and to pause protests for a few days.

In his first extensive remarks since the killing, Mayor Bill de Blasio called Monday for a pause in protests over police conduct as he faced a widening rift with those in a grieving force who accuse him of creating a climate of mistrust that contributed to the execution of two officers. He called for “everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in all due time.”

“We are working toward a day where we can achieve greater harmony toward policing and community,” he said later. De Blasio had earlier met with the officers’ families and later noted, “There’s a lot of pain.”

Meanwhile, Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the NYPD — the police union, in other words — has ramped up the hate speech. He has fanned resentment among the NYPD that they are being protested at all, blames City Hall for being against police, and has asked that the Mayor be banned from attending the funerals of slain officers. I don’t even want to know what’s going on on Fox News.

People are still posting obviously doctored videos that allegedly show recent protesters calling for the death of cops, because they so much want to believe that’s true. They want to make it an either-or. They want the cops to be blameless and all the fault placed elsewhere. It’s not that simple.

But, seriously, from what I can see there is not a proportional amount of hate speech coming from both sides, especially from officials and media figures. Individuals, no doubt. You’ll find people saying intemperate things across the spectrum, I’m sure. But among people in prominent positions or in media, it’s not equal at all. Is it?

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3 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  Dec 24, 2014 @5:50 pm

    I’ve said this before.

    Conservative POV:
    A white male who kills a police officer, is a deranged lone wolf.
    A black male who kills a police officer, is a socialist-influenced punk and thug, has a gang-mentality, and hates all whites.

    The only NYC Mayor in recent memory who the police liked/loved, was Rudy 9/11 – because under him, they were allowed to run wild.
    The police had problems with Lindsey.
    They had problems with Beame.
    They had problems with Koch.
    The police had major problems with Dinkins.
    They had some problems with Bloomy.
    And now they have major problems with de Blasio.

    Notice a pattern?
    All but Rudy 9/11, were Democrats, Independents, or Liberal Republicans -yes, Virginia, there used to be Liberal Republicans.

    The police in NYC have problems with any Mayor who’s not an Authoritarian who allows them to do whatever they want.

    It’s the same mentality as Wall Street.
    Even though Wall Street does better under Democratic Presidents, they still prefer the Republicans.

    Rudy took advantage of major racial problems in Brooklyn, when Dinkins – an African-American – was Mayor, and said that crime in NYC was out of control.
    At that point in time, as a matter of fact, crime was starting to drop in NYC.

    But Rudy beat Dinkins, set-up his own Authoritarian and Fascist regime (with a “Cult of Personality” centered around himself), and took all of the credit for the drop in the crime rate – which, btw, was dropping around the nation.

    People who choose law enforcement as a career, tend to be Authoritarians, so their reaction is somewhat understandable.
    They like Authority figures.
    If it’s the “right” authority figure.
    Democrats, and Independents, aren’t as reactionary when they react to situations. They see shades of gray.
    Authoritarians leaders and followers – Manicheans, one and all – see life as white v. black/good v. evil.

    NY’s Mayor de Blasio is, imo, never going to get the approval of the police.
    He’s not a conservative Authoritarian .

  2. Dan  •  Dec 24, 2014 @9:17 pm

    Gotta love the rightwingnuts racing and standing in lines to see “The Interview” after Sony is now releasing this critically panned and destined-for-the-dustbin-of-history movie. Wonder how much of the whole PR campaign was drummed up!

  3. Stephen Stralka  •  Dec 24, 2014 @9:28 pm

    I certainly don’t see any equivalence in the rhetoric. One thing you can do, instead of looking at each side’s rhetoric you can look at how they characterize the other side’s rhetoric. A lot of what the authoritarians are calling inflammatory rhetoric just isn’t.

    For instance, I’ve heard a lot of talk about anti-cop speech from Obama, Holder, de Blasio, etc. but none of the alleged anti-cop speech that people are complaining about. To say that de Blasio said or even suggested that all cops are racist murderers or whatever is just a lie. So there’s a basic issue of honesty there, among other things.



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