America’s Compassion Discrepancy.
“We failed the students of Parkland. But we also failed Nikolas Cruz.”
This was the headline on Rewire.news, a daily online publication with a strong social media presence. Ten days after the horrific Stoneman Douglas shooting, the site posted an article detailing the mental health history of the gunman, Nikolas Cruz. While petitioning for increased public funding of mental health care, the writer also summonsed readers to examine their levels of social compassion. In true bleeding heart form, she described Cruz as a “seriously troubled young adult crying out for help that never came.”
This compassionate and very human description of the perpetrators of mass shootings is not uncommon in American media. Similar descriptions can be found of Charleston Church shooter, Dylan Roof and Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, as well as Sandy Hook murderer, Adam Lanza.
But why does it seem that white men tend to be the only ones offered such grace in response to their maladaptive behaviors?
As a psychotherapist, I have no doubt that mental health plays a role in mass shootings. However, it seems that in our country, this graceful and compassionate, pity-the-perpetrator approach only applies to white men. We consider depression, ADHD, and psychotic disorders when examining the impetus behind why white men shoot innocent people, but rarely do we take into account the impact of issues like PTSD, racism, and abject poverty on minorities in America. The media certainly does not offer the same compassion in how they report on crimes committed by people of color.
A far cry from their white counterparts who are described by the press as “sad”, “lonely”, or “troubled”, we are more likely to hear youth of color described as “thugs”, “gangsters”, and “drug dealers”. These descriptions not only remove the humanity from people of color, reducing them to troublemakers and criminals, but they also fail to account for the trauma that is often woven into the fabric of inner city communities.
Are these individuals not deserving of social compassion and better mental health care? Have we not failed them as well?
In 2015, the Uniform Crime Report indicated over 3,000 violent crimes in the city of Newark, NJ; 107 of which were homicides. That’s almost 10 violent crimes per day taking place in one city and 1 violent death every 3.5 days. The result is an entire population subject to trauma and more likely to experience PTSD. Couple that with lower access to mental health care and the trauma of violent interactions with the police. One can safely say that undiagnosed PTSD is very real in the inner cities.
So how about our society offer the same compassion to people of color as we do to “troubled” white men? Perhaps the media consider that the irritability and aggression that may cause a person to appear as a “violent thug”, may actually be a trauma related arousal or defense mechanism attempting to prevent further harm. Illicit drug use, could be an effort to avoid or numb the pain of a traumatic memory. A “bad attitude” could potentially indicate depression in response to a life racked with violence and poverty.
“What can I do?”
If you’re in agreement that PTSD in the inner city is real or you’re tired of seeing people of color dehumanized in mainstream media, here’s what you can do.
- Encourage mental health treatment. https://openpathcollective.org/ is an online counseling directory that connects clients to mental health professionals who accept payments for as low as $30 per session. Refer your family and friends.
- Contact your local officials. Demand increased funding for mental health care. (844) 241-1141 will connect you with your local representatives.
- Contact your local media personalities. Let them know your disapproval. Many news reporters and journalists are easily accessible via social media. DM them and let them know you do not approve of their descriptions of people of color in their reporting.