Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Tucson Shooting and Its Aftermath

Brooks and Shields on the PBS News Hour, discussing whether it was the "high level of violent discourse in America" that caused the shooting in Tucson.

What happened in Tucson was a terrible, terrible thing. What happened afterward was also very, very sad.

Like the murder of John Lennon, the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, the slaughter at Virginia Tech, the mass murder at Columbine High School, and the deadly bombings by Ted Kaczynski--and so many other sadly similar cases--the perpetrator appears to have been a mentally disturbed young man.

From the blather that followed the Tucson case, one might never know that. On every news program I have watched since the shooting--most especially the News Hour on PBS--there were long discussions about the "political discourse in this country" and "whether it has become too violent."

Poppycock is the nicest thing I can say about analysis like that.

I'm not a medical person. But I was a minor public figure who appeared on television for more than two decades. During those years, I got hundreds of disturbing letters from disturbed people.

I came to recognize that some mentally ill people, with certain specific kinds of symptoms, focus their illness on people they see on television and in other media. No matter what the person in the media says.

Imagine a Congresswoman or a rock star or a President of the United States and you can multiply the weird letters and threats I received by a huge number.

I received so many letters from people with these illnesses, I kept a file of them for many years in the "just in case" department of my desk drawer. The letters had many things in common though they were written by unrelated individuals.

The letters were almost always hand printed. In very small printing on both sides of the paper. And they were almost always many, many, many pages long.

In them, the writers told me of plots by the CIA and the government to cause mind control through the things I, and other public figures, were saying to them on television.

The writers frequently told me they knew this because they were getting signals from me or from others via the fillings in their teeth.

I'm not writing these things to you, so that you will laugh: though, it is true, when I write them now, this material does seem that it might be good material for a farce.

But the people who wrote them then and write and think these things now, were and are not farcical. They were and are very serious and believe what they write. Evidence? Tuscon, Arizona.

In my case--and this was some years ago--one young man who wrote me these things made an attempt on my life and was incarcerated for it. He later escaped, threatening, once again, to kill me. After I had a very sleepless weekend, while he remained at large, I returned to work, relieved to be alive.

But shortly after I walked in the door of the television newsroom where I worked, he called me on the telephone and said he was in the lobby of the TV station and would I come down and see him. I told him I would be right down.

Then I called the police. As they took him away, he screamed again that he would kill me. I had never met him.

What distrubs me now, about the Tucson shooting, is that the discussions about this particular horror, seem to be taking place among people who have been living on the moon.

These shootings are not about politics. Or the CIA, or John Lennon, or Ronald Reagan, or anything polticial or news related at all.

These terrible eruptions of violence are about mental illness and about our treatment of those who are mentally ill. Somehow--and I don't know whether this is due to legal or medical decisions--we, as a society, have accepted that the way to treat people with these often dangerous illnesses is to give them a prescription and send them home. Period.

I have heard not one discussion following any of these incidents about how we might better diagnose and treat--and possibly institutionalize, for their own safety and ours--the dangerous mentally ill, so that these murderous rampages might be avoided.

That would be a worthwhile discussion to come out of this devastating case. I'm looking forward to the day that Mr. Brooks and Mr. Shields of the PBS News Hour--who are both honorable, intelligent men--will enlighten us with their thoughts on this truly important issue.

Not talking about the mental health aspect of these deadly shootings is the least humane thing we can do. Both for the victims and for those who struggle with their terrible delusions.

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3 comments:

peretz said...

You are absolutely correct, and I anticipated this political rhetoric that seems to be partisan. There has always been a balance between protecting the public and safeguarding the rights of the mentally ill person. This is easier said than done; auditory hallucinations and delusions are hidden to even the most trained mental health professional. Until they respond to their internal stimuli or "speak their mind." I once committed someone because they were throwing rocks at cars on a street corner. I did it because I had prior knowledge that the man was mentally ill, because I knew him. The day that he was released from the psychiatric hospital, he brutally murdered his grandmother, while she was knitting a sweater. I was working in the local ER, when they brought her in. The attending psychiatrist made a error in judgement, and felt that his symptoms were under control.

Robin Chapman said...

Do you think the victims are guilty of "causing" the violence by taking part in political discussions?

peretz said...

Absolutely not. Some people have political delusions involving espionage, sattelites in space that spy on us, etc. People in political positions can naturally be associated with these delusions, because they sit on sub comittees dealing with such things. They are no more to blame than authors who write conspiracy fiction novels. The person who shot the congresswoman was responding to both, his thought content and his thought process, not on anything that a politician said. The people who are blaming this on the political climate are responding to their own thought process and content.