Stop Calling Dylann Roof Crazy


There has been a lot of talk about the fact that, if you take a gun into a church and follow up on your stated intent to “kill black people,” then you must be mentally ill. Because, why else would anyone engage in mass murder?

If Dylann Roof was mentally ill, then a significant portion of ignorant cracker bigots are mentally ill too, because I have seen the attitude that underlay this mass murder all too often. And I do find it sick, but not ill.

There are those who have such hatred and ignorance and deep-seated insecurity that they can only feel validated if they declare themselves superior to someone, anyone. If they are human, well then animals are only here for their enjoyment because God gave us dominion over animals, so cockfighting or taping a dog’s mouth shut is just fine. If they are white, they feel that white is the default for “normal” and anything else is inferior. If they are men, they need to feel that the “little woman” is only as good as the needs she serves.

Sick in the way that their attitude is a cancer upon society, but not mentally ill. Sick in a way that ferments hatred in a stew of fear and paranoia that can lead to killing, but not mentally ill.

Now, mentally ill people do kill. But the truth is, studies cited by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have shown that someone mentally ill is 11 times more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator.

Until there is a diagnosis, we don’t know that Dylann Roof was mentally ill. And assuming that he must be, gives him an out, an excuse. As though he couldn’t help himself. Rehab has become the confession booth of the modern age for too many celebrities: one stop and all is forgiven. Whatever I did, I must have an addiction or illness, because why else would I behave this way?

I am in no way minimizing the struggles of those with substance use disorders or mental illness. Quite the contrary. There are people who have to work at recovery every day of their lives, and their struggle is heroic. What I am saying is that when we use mental illness as the blanket “reason” for the unreasonable, we cover the very real issues – the bigotry and sense of entitlement that lets people tell themselves that they are somehow better than everyone else just because of who they are, and not because of what they have done.



(reprinted from Charleston GRIT)

I live in Charleston and I love Charleston, but as a relative newcomer, I feel like maybe I have no standing to feel the grief and outrage that I do.

I live midway between the Mother Emanuel AME Church and the neighborhood where little Tyreik Gadsden was left paralyzed after being caught in crossfire. The night of the church shootings, our telephone rang with a message from the police: stay inside. All night, a helicopter crosshatched our street with a searchlight.

I watched television helplessly as black men formed prayer circles outside of the church, their pain so raw that I felt it through the TV screen. And I grieved with them.

I am not a native Charlestonian, I am not black, heck, I don’t even go to church. No one’s going to seek my quote on this tragedy because it isn’t really MY tragedy.

And yet. Tonight, one night after the shooting, a police car lit up and raced past my house, heading into Tyreik Gadsden territory. I heard sirens and my skin twitched the way a horse’s does when a sandfly lands. Because suddenly, whatever tragedy was happening “over there” was mine too.

During the vigil last night as we walked from one church to Mother Emanuel, a neighbor said she had asked the pastor, “Why here?” and said she was not comforted by his answer: “Why not?” She was trying to understand the meaning. But maybe that vigil of black and white, young and old, was the meaning.

Whether or not I have standing, I will be standing – next to the mourners, arm in arm with those who stand vigil and show unity, behind those who lost family members and the first responders who will never erase the images they encountered.

Because despite the rage, despite the hatred, despite those who might shrug off my comforting hand because I could never understand, I’m joining Charleston – suddenly and irrevocably my home and not just where I live – in standing for the strength of love over hate.

Photo Credit: Ferris Kaplan

Photo Credit: Ferris Kaplan

The Right to Be Forgotten


Google is battling France and the European Court of Justice  for the way it keeps data on individuals, especially if the data is out of date or inflammatory. People would be allowed to scrub their names from Google search results under something called “the right to be forgotten.”

I find the phrase so charming that I wondered whether we should all have that right?

There is, of course, the online record of our behavior. The booze-drenched photos, the flippant Facebook comments, the snotty email on a bad day.

But wouldn’t it be lovely to have the ability to erase the offline record as well?

The young girl who dressed in shiny polyester and blue eyeshadow? Gone, and I wish forgotten! The young woman who thought the highest compliment anyone could give her was to call her sexy? Gone and maybe just mothballed until I need to bring her out as an object lesson.

The times I said something insensitive or was less than my best self? Anyone whose heart I broke when I was young and insecure, or older and still insecure? I wish they would forget the transgression, if not forget me.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all had the right, when we wished to exercise it, to be forgotten?

Gone and Forgotten