Stop Using Mental Illness as a Scapegoat for Acts of Terrorism

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Her Campus or Her Campus at VCU

Lone wolf. Mentally unstable. Depressed.

These are all words that have been - and still are - used in cases to describe mass murderers in the deadliest shootings in our recent history. As if somehow these words describing the perpetrator will lessen the severity of the crimes committed. However, it does not take much effort to see that this unspoken rule is not granted to everyone.

There is a huge disconnect when people in positions of power (most notably white men) are charged for serious crimes such as mass murder. A tragic backstory is painted by family friends and news sources that try to downplay the severity of the situation by encouraging people to look at the person, instead of the crime(s) they committed. Somehow, this is meant to convince people on the outside of the situation to feel bad for the criminal, and in turn, this may make their prison sentence shorter, or allow judges to examine a case from a new lens if they buy into the whole "broken human being" scenario.

However, the leniency that is granted towards white counterparts for serious crimes is nonexistent compared to people of color - specifically black men. They are murdered every day it seems, over the most trivial issues that can usually be resolved without pulling out a weapon. 

Many of us remember the tragedy that unraveled on July 14, 2014. Eric Garner, 43, was brutally detained by police officers in Staten Island, simply for selling untaxed cigarettes. He died because he was held in a choke hold by one of the officers for far too long, even after repeatedly stating that he could not breathe. Now compare this image, and the amount of force used on this man, to the force used on someone who committed an unspeakable crime -  a terrorist - who laid on the grown and was detained by less than half the amount of officers that were at the 2014 incident. 

Something isn't right here.

Many people on social media, specifically twitter, noticed that there is a huge problem with this pattern. Why is it that when people of color are convicted, they usually suffer from excessive police force and brutality, while white people who commit the same or worse crimes are excused? Black and brown children are never given the luxury of not suffering consequences for their actions because of another inevitable factor such as age or mental state. Why are they given the benefit of the doubt once authorities throw in words describing their "disturbing" background?

Such language also poses a greater conversation for people everywhere suffering from mental illness. How can someone's reasoning behind taking a person's life be reduced to depression? 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, just to put things into perspective. Myself, along with many people I know, suffer from some form of mental illness. Does that give me an excuse to take someones life? Or the greater question, does that mean that I have the potential to kill someone else BECAUSE I have an anxiety disorder? 

If you are someone who believes this, then I am so sorry to tell you that someone's mental health doesn't determine whether they would be a murderer or not. Their actions do. Such actions are able to be carried out because of the National Rifle Association, which funded $54 million towards the 2016 presidential campaign. Mental health isn't the issue. Gun control is. How many more "thoughts and prayers" have to be sent in order for change to be made? The answer is none. There is no amount of condolences, well-wishing or praying that can solve this problem. The ball is in the court of the United States government, and it's time for them to step it up. There should be no reason that ANYONE - especially not a young man who has shown numerous warning signs, should be able to have legal access to an AR-15 style rifle. 

In order for there to be a significant change in this country, there needs to be equality among all of its citizens first. When I say this, I mean that there needs to be consistency of the charges for all criminals, and it should not be decided by their skin color, or any other "delinquent" background that the police try to pull up as an excuse for killing someone. This is the biggest elephant in the room. Why won't people address this? If there is reform on people's biased views against minority groups, then this in turn would prevent the deaths of many innocent people of color. Stop using mental health as a scapegoat to let these white men and women off with a lighter sentence. It further damages the stigma of people living their lives with mental illnesses every day who do not have any desire to harm someone. It is time for the government to take action into its own hands, and stop waiting for who knows what.

Someday, I hope that the government will reform itself and implement stricter gun laws, or stop receiving funding from the NRA altogether. Only time will tell. However, many students of Stoneman Douglas High School have already been using their voice to speak out against our government's negligence. I have faith in the voices of the victims, as well as the many Americans who see the huge problem that is, in fact, gun violence and the greed of politicians. The best thing that we can do in this moment is to keep raising our voices until they have no choice but to hear us. 

Images: cover, photo by Eleanor Ritzman