This has been a week of “what ifs”.
This past Sunday I found myself looking at people in church I didnt recognize and wondering “what If?”
Several years ago in Knoxville a man came one Sunday to a Unitarian Church to “kill some liberals.” A friend of mine was there that morning and this week I read her terrifying account of that morning. She left the main service minutes before the shooting started to attend to a younger child and was in an adjacent small room when she heard the first shots. She talked about shutting the door and blocking it with her body and hoping that was enough to keep him out. And she talked about her child and I wondered “what if?”
I listened to the endless news of Charleston this week. I wanted to know how Dylann Roof became Dylann Roof.
I heard one person describe him as “whacked out…” Others said he had to be mentally ill…he had to be. Nothing else made sense.
I listened to his hatred and I listened to how he had been taught to hate so well. And I wondered what pill, what doctor, what treatment was supposed to protect us from that hatred.
There is a lot of talk right now about how things like AOT (assisted outpatient treatment) can and would save us from such tragedy. And I wondered about the assisted outpatient treatment of Dylann Roof and “what if…” What if he had been committed? What if he had to go and talk to someone? What if someone had tried to tell him that his hatred was a symptom of something else? What if he had been told he had to take medication? What if he had told that if he didnt cooperate he would be put into a hospital? What if?
And it all seemed so naive and self serving. I have known many psychiatrists over the last years. I have known many therapists. I have known case workers and have worked in mental health facilities of every sort. None of them would have protected me from Dylann Roof. I dont know a single mental health professional who would tell me he could make people hate less and none of them would have told me that racism was a disease they had a pill for.
Who really believes that someone who is so full of hate and rage as to kill 9 people, a crime not of the moment, but of long making could be dissuaded or have the way he made sense of life changed by assisted outpatient treatment. Who really believes that AOT would have overrode all he had learned to do, all he had learned to be, all he believed>
And it struck me. The dilemma of Dylann Roof was not that he was “whacked out.” It is that he wasnt. He doesnt exist apart from the culture he grew up in. He doesnt exist apart from the context of his life. Hatred and rage were not what he had. They were what he was. And he saw his actions as a defense of who he was and what he thought life should be about.
Who really believes that psychiatry can be and should be our first line of defense against human evil? Everything I have read over the last week (and I have read a lot) says that psychiatry cannot even predict who will be violent and who will not. Psychiatric predictions are no better than chance. Even if you knew what to do (and I see no proof of that) how can you protect people from what you cannot see?
Racism is evil. To medicalize hatred….to medicalize rage not only dishonors those that are victimized by it, but in the end leaves us defenseless before the next Dylann Roof.