A Somali-American Muslim woman was attacked and severely beaten in Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend, after coming to the defense of another Muslim woman who was being verbally assaulted.
Portland, Oregon, is still reeling after the previous weekend when two black teenage girls, one who is Muslim and was wearing a hijab, were verbally abused on a commuter train. Their attacker cut the throats of the three men who came to their aid, killing two.
Two Native American men were run down that same weekend by a driver in a large pickup truck at a campground in Grays Harbor County, Washington. One died. A Quinault Nation statement said the driver yelled racial slurs.
And the week before that, on May 20, a black college student, only days away from his graduation ceremony, was fatally stabbed at the University of Maryland. It’s being investigated as a hate crime.
All of the people arrested are white men. The attackers spewed racial slurs. They were known to affiliate with white nationalist groups on social media.
Sean Christopher Urbanski, charged with murdering student Richard Collins III at a bus stop on University of Maryland’s campus, was a member of the Facebook group “Alt Reich: Nation,” where bigoted comments were made against people of color, Muslims, and women. The page, which had over a thousand members, has since been removed.
Jeremy Joseph Christian, arrested in the Portland train stabbing deaths, was a “known right wing extremist and white supremacist,” according to a local newspaper. Motivation seemed clear enough, but then this happened: A Portland police spokesperson was quoted as saying, “We don’t know if he’s got mental health issues.”
Why would he say that?
Why is mental illness the go-to line for white men who commit acts of terrorism against people of color? Why is it an easier excuse than plain hatred and vicious racism?
Most people with mental illness are not violent, and only 3–5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with serious mental illness, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are more than 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.
The label “mental illness” when referred to white men who’ve committed bigoted violence is a dangerous cover-up. It downplays the contribution of racism.
Mental illness elicits sympathy. It becomes merely sad that a white man like Dylann Roof massacred nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
The easy excuse is not OK.
How does the saying go? “The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing expecting a different result.” So how do we change, stop making excuses for evil white men? How is it that folks expect racism to go away when nothing has been done at a structural or institutional level to dismantle it? And many who remain in their own silos perpetuate it, directly or indirectly.
In fact, this country has doubled down. How else do you explain the election of Donald Trump?
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the country rose “for two years in a row in 2016 as the radical right was energized by the candidacy of Donald Trump.” SPLC’s annual census of “extremist” groups, reports that 37 percent of over a thousand bias incidents directly referenced Trump.
From the moment Donald Trump became the GOP nominee for president, his misogyny and bigotry became the kindling and fuel for white people who live in fear to act out their hatred on others.
So leave mental illness out of it. I say the blood of Rahma Warsame, 40, Jimmy Smith Kramer, 20, and Harvey Anderson, 19, Rick Best, 53, Taliesin Namkai Meche, 23, Micah Fletcher, 21, and Richard Collins, 23, is on Trumpism.
Actor Jim Carey said the other day, “Covering up for this president is like putting make-up on a melanoma. It’s not only unsightly, but it’s dangerous.”
I would like to add “and hateful white men” to that statement following “this president.” If we keep making excuses and not holding these people accountable for their terrorism, all the social justice marches, rallies, truth circles, diversity meetings, and “undoing racism” workshops amount to absolutely nothing.
Zenobia Jeffries Warfield is the executive editor at YES!, where she directs editorial coverage for YES! Magazine, YES! Media’s editorial partnerships, and serves as chair of the YES! Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. A Detroit native, Zenobia is an award-winning journalist who joined YES! in 2016 to build and grow YES!’s racial justice beat, and continues to write columns on racial justice. In addition to writing and editing, she has produced, directed, and edited a variety of short documentaries spotlighting community movements to international democracy. Zenobia earned a BA in Mass Communication from Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan, and an MA in Communication with an emphasis in media studies from Wayne State University in Detroit. Zenobia has also taught the college course “The Effects of Media on Social Justice,” as an adjunct professor in Detroit. Zenobia is a member of NABJ, SABJ, SPJ, and the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. She lives in Seattle, and speaks English and AAVE.