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President Barack Obama addressed the public Thursday morning with words that chilled us. He stated that a recent shooting had stirred up a “dark part of American history,” referring to a time when racially motivated violence was known, and accepted.
More than 200 years ago, our founding fathers worked with diligence and sincerity to transform American society into one of acceptance and unity. More than 150 years ago, the 13th amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery. Exactly 139 years ago, state and local laws which required the separation of black and white people in schools, hotels, water fountains, restaurants, libraries, buses, and trains were set. Only 61 years ago were such laws recognized as unconstitutional during the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit. Finally, only 51 years ago did the Civil Rights Act make these cruel, derogatory, and sickening laws illegal.
It would be an honor to be able to say, as an American, that we live in different times now. However, that honor is not mine, and saying that American society has evolved from old century anti-Black ideals isn’t anyone’s right.
On June 17th, late Wednesday night, a 21 year old white man named Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel AME church, a historical church symbolizing the strength and honor of black progress against oppression, and murdered 9 innocent black men and women. He purposefully left a survivor, telling her she’d live to tell the tale of his actions. A young 8-year-old girl played dead next to her murdered family, praying she’d survive the night.
In response, the first thing some media outlets did was label him as an innocent, quiet, and soft-spoken boy who’d just gone wrong (very ironic considering how the same media treated Michael Brown, a 19 year old unarmed Black boy murdered for walking home). Secondly, after backlash from citizen journalists and civil activists, our media instead pulled the mental illness argument, one which we see too often when white men go on (many times racist and misogynistic) killing sprees. Some of the most recent examples of murderers being treated with a privilege that doesn’t exist for Muslims, black people, and other minorities by being labeled mentally ill in order to both humanize them and excuse their terrorist actions include:
Elliot Rodger, who killed 6 and injured 7, waging a war against women, and was labeled mentally ill.
Craig Hicks, who killed three Muslims and was labeled mentally ill.
Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and 6 adults and was labeled mentally ill.
Darren Wilson, Michael Slager, Matthew Kenny, Dante Servin, Sargent Mourad Mourad, Jovaniel Cordova, and Daniel Pantaleo who were all cops who murdered unarmed and innocent Black men and were labeled mentally ill.
George Zimmerman, who got away with the murder of innocent 17 year old Trayvon Martin, and was labeled mentally ill.
The stigma of mental illness is one which should not be easily thrown around. Not only does it cause further discrimination, it disproves the fact that the majority of people with mental illnesses are not even violent:
"Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006)."
"People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001). People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999)."
The link between mental illnesses and violence is perpetuated by news media and prime television. By portraying mentally ill people as violent and dangerous, we are disseminating a stigma against those with disorders.
Up to this point, most major media outlets have not used the word “terrorism” to describe Roof’s shooting. The ones who did blamed it on his non-existent mental illnesses. CNN, The New York Times, and the Huffington Post all dismissed the terrorist argument because his friends “claimed he only occasionally made racist comments but could never kill nine black people”15. Dylann Roof has been portrayed as clean-shaven and calm, rather than a possible terrorist and a racist. The go-to explanation for his murderous actions will be mental illness, because that is how the media aims to humanize him. He’ll be described as a victim of “inadequate mental health resources”, because let’s face it: the real illness is white privilege.
Roof wanted people to know he was racist and anti-Black. Writing “14:88” in the sand (88 being a number coming from “white supremacist precepts” and a number regularly used by Neo-Nazis), he wanted people to understand his white supremacist goals. There is no rational reason to deny the fact that Roof committed murder with the intention of attacking an innocent black community. He was a domestic terrorist, and there is no better way to describe him. However, a media which supported the Islamophobic and Xenophobic “Je Suis Charlie” movement refuses to admit that Roof was a racist terrorist.
Five months ago, the Atlanta community mourned the murders of Deah Barakat and Yusor and Razan Mohammad. Before that, we tackled anti-black sentiments, rallied against the murders of Michael Brown, and fought the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. Not long after, we disputed the Islamophobic remarks of Pamela Gellerr, and, refuted anti-Muslim protests in Arizona. Once again, our community must unite to raise awareness regarding the issue of anti-blackness. With the massacre hitting so close to home, the Atlanta community should be shaken, and as Muslims, it is our duty to fight injustice.
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor.” (Quran 4:135)
President Barack Obama’s Eid ul-Fitr message for this year referenced the LaunchGood campaign where the Muslim community raised funds to help rebuild the burned down churches:
"Following the Iftar, one of the young attendees helped spearhead an effort that raised more than $75,000 for the churches burned in the wake of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Americans of all faiths and beliefs must stand together to protect our democracy and strengthen our country as a whole. Michelle and I hope today brings joy to all of your homes, both here in the U.S. and around the world. From my family to yours, Eid Mubarak!"
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