I’ve slowly begun working on a paper I’ve had in mind for over a decade. It focuses on the prevalence and importance of psychopathology for social movements, but also for other actors in the field of politics and organizations. Cross-cultural studies show that 5% of human populations suffer from serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, and another 5% suffer from serious anxiety, compulsive, or depressive disorders. It seems ill-advised for sociologists to ignore this aspect of the human condition.
Last week we had yet another (or probably six) shooting of an unarmed African American by a police officer. The poor guy is a therapist in a group home and he literally had his hands in the air while lying on his back—and still the cop shot him, three times. I think I know why, and simple racism isn’t enough.
Nearly 30 years ago I was shot by a stranger in a convenience store parking lot. It wasn’t on television or even considered remarkable because the guy was a Vietnam vet who was physically and psychologically disabled. We used to joke about that shit back in the 1970s and 1980s. Crazy Vietnam vets holed up in a trailer with a bunch of guns waiting for the Viet Cong to show up. Vietnam Vets were lucky. Unless you wanted to make a career in the military, if you were unlucky enough to be sent to ‘Nam it was only for one 4-6 month tour. Still, the horrors of war interact with comorbid physical injuries and latent mental health problems to exacerbate and channel psychotic behavior. If you have a schizoid disorder or bipolar with psychoses and you’ve killed people and or watched people die in war, you’re unlikely to express symptoms through believing you’re the Easter Bunny, and much more likely to have dangerous paranoid delusions.
We have been at war for 15 years, and before that fought a low level war in several parts of the Middle East as well as in what is now Bosnia and Serbia. Unlike in the past, over the last 15 years the US has subjected regulars and even National Guard members to long and arduous tours of duty in Iraqistan. People are pulled from their jobs and families and sent to kill and die (mostly the former, though). Given that this is a volunteer military, it raises serious questions about selectivity and psychopathology—particularly given the lowering of all manner of standards for all branches of service (except the Merchant Marines and the Coast Guard….).
One thing you get out of military service, particularly if you are white and male, is extremely strong affirmative action for employment in police departments. Indeed, there are virtually no other requirements for employment in most forces save for a short training stint at a police academy—where you are taught by people with very similar experiences, proclivities, and likely psychopathologies. Our veteran police officers are almost uniformly veterans of our warmongering enterprises in Iraq and Afghanistan, and most likely suffer the trauma of such involvement. Yet we give them guns and train them to shoot first. Who knows what that “SWAT” team member saw. I saw a developmentally disabled adult sitting in the road with a guy who looks like Black Santa Claus. The cop may have seen a big hulking Afghani who pulled a grenade and fragged his buddies in Kabul.
Ah, but let us not forget our ethnically diverse military. Many of those who chose to join are ethnic minorities. African Americans, Latinos, and even Arab Americans who were more looking for a way to pay for school or get a job–rather than signing up to kill them some Haji’s (that’s what they call us, I know). It is not surprising at all that several of the shootings of police officers following police shootings of African Americans have been executed by former military personnel. Not only are they likely to be suffering from psychopathologies, but they are also not likely to reap the rewards of public employment and social esteem which accrue to white veterans. Nor is it surprising that all of the family members report that “XXXX wasn’t the same when he got back from Iraqistan.” Extremist violence is often a product of psychopathology, rather than being strategic in an organizational sense, it is an egoistic response of the afflicted, which then must be dealt with or incorporated into the agendas of social movements—or the repressive state…..