At the risk of oversimplifying a much larger problem (and way over-generalizing as well – a tragic flaw of anyone who claims to be a writer), there are two kinds of people in this world: those who care about their fellow human beings, and those who don’t. (Yes, I know that there are really more than two kinds of people – there are at least three. Just follow along for a while.)
Our great American society has a real problem when it comes to dealing with mental illness. We (as a society) really don’t do hardly a damn thing about it. Most of us simply don’t care or even understand how big the problem is, treatment options are limited, and way too many end up forgotten, homeless, or incarcerated. By the time the last option occurs, it’s usually because someone with mental illness has acted violently or in a manner that rational people don’t understand.
In Aurora, Colorado, a sick individual with quite the collection of firearms and other ordnance killed, wounded, and forever scarred many unsuspecting people who committed the “crime” of just wanted an evening’s escape at the movies. A graduate student in neuroscience somehow managed to amass a large collection of weapons, ammunition, and body armor, booby-trapped his apartment, and plotted his mass murder completely under the radar? How does someone like that escape notice? And why did the media report his mother as saying she “wasn’t surprised” at what happened?
Closer to home, a Conch Key woman known as “Sea Hag” shot and killed one of her neighbors because he committed the “crime” of refusing to give her a beer. She is 62 years old, with no prior convictions or arrests. Like the Aurora shooter, she was not likely in her right mind. No one in his or her right mind goes to a neighbor’s house with a gun to ask for a beer.
The neighbor, Martin Mazur, did not deserve to be brutally murdered; neither did the moviegoers in Aurora deserve what happened to them. The likely outcome is that neither murderer will ever see a free day ever again. But incidents like these raise questions, or at least they should. What could have been done that might have prevented these senseless killings? Were there telltale red flags given off by these killers that should have been noticed or reported? Is there anything we can do as a society to get mentally ill people the help they need before they pull the trigger?
Something that resonated with me was the premiere of the HBO series The Newsroom, in which actor Jeff Daniels portrays a somewhat conflicted cable TV journalist named Will McAvoy. During that first episode, McAvoy goes off on a college student that asked him why America was the greatest country in the world. Here’s part of his response:
“…There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories. Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined 25 of whom are allies.” (I’ll add that anyone who thinks we’ve got the greatest health care system in the world is delusional.)
While some of the numbers vary according to which sources are used, the speech does paint a picture of areas we’re failing in as a society. And the McAvoy character also missed other notable “firsts” for America: “We are also first in obesity, divorce, pollution, national debt, hours of television watched, weapons sales, murder, rape, and fuel consumption. On the other hand, America is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world and we are the global leader in productivity, charitable giving and foreign aid.” (Source: Edgar Allen Beem, The Forecaster.)
After explaining why we weren’t the best anymore, McAvoy went on: “We sure used to be. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and acted like men.”
Maybe it’s time we took a serious look at our priorities and started questioning whether it’s better to, say, incarcerate non-violent pot smokers on the taxpayer’s dime, or perhaps use that money for better things, like perhaps, mental health research? And just maybe, someday we can reduce the number of the other kind of people – those who don’t give a damn about their fellow human beings.