Archive for July, 2016

Bringing Psychopathology Back In: Part IV, Extremist Violence from and against the State



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…..

Black Men with Guns–our only hope for Gun Control

Stand your ground, brothers!

Stand your ground, brothers!

In late November of 1986 I was walking from my apartment in a somewhat seedy area of Tulsa to an adjacent convenience store. As I approached, I noticed that there was this guy freaking out with a gun. He blasted a round or two into the ground. I had to get my shit, so I kept walking. He followed me over and unloaded his pistol in my face from about 15 feet. He only hit me once in the shoulder. I couldn’t feel it because of the shock and went into the store (I was on a mission from my pregnant soon to be ex-wife). I was wearing a white polo shirt, and the cashier was aghast when I approached the counter. “Dude, you know you’re bleeding, right?”

The cops were already there before I even went in, since the guy had been freaking out for a while. They had the guy and had searched his place and uncovered a few more guns. All of his guns were pieces of shit. 38 specials, 32 5-shooter, what we used to call “Saturday Night Specials” which even the racist redneck Lynard Skynard band wanted dumped to the bottom of the sea (not ideal, we can recycle….). I remember one of the cops saying something like “these guns shouldn’t even exist.” And, they wouldn’t have, were it not for the revolution in the NRA in 1976, and the complicity of politicians in allowing not only the continuation of Saturday Night Specials, but also the development of civilian markets for military guns. That market did not exist before 1980.

When I got shot in 1986 there was no state in the United States where it was generally legal to carry concealed weapons. Permits were strict, and most holders were judges, lawyers, and police officers. Back when we almost banned virtually all handguns in 1976, the highest capacity semi-automatics could only hold 7 shots. Now, we have handguns with 27 shot clips, and assault rifles with 35-45.

The history of gun technology and regulation is something lost in this non-debate about gun control. The fact is, until the late 1970s there were NO high caliber semi-automatic rifles available for sale which could shoot more than three rounds. Ruger changed that in the late 1970s, through heavy lobbying. All guns used to have safety mechanisms, now they don’t. This is why so many toddlers are killing people and themselves. Semi-automatic pistols with no safety. Jesus. People are shooting their dicks off every day. There is no longer any respect for gun safety, people just want the biggest baddest thing to stuff next to their limp dick (before they shoot it off).

Importantly, nobody needs these weapons for hunting or for the rare instance of self defense. You can’t hunt with a pistol for almost any game in almost any state, and the few that you can require it to be a rifle without a stock. Most states don’t allow you to hunt with a rifle at all, because it’s too fucking dangerous. NO state allows anyone to hunt anything with a gun packing more than 5 rounds. If you don’t hit your quarry in the first shot or two, you’re more likely to kill your brother in law than the duck or deer. The reason why all handguns should be banned should be obvious by the fact that I’m alive. That motherfucker unloaded six rounds and only hit me once! If you’ve ever shot a piece of shit Saturday Night Special or even a fairly high end pistol, you’ll appreciate why. They suck. They ain’t good for nuthin’.

What is to be done? First we need to regulate the arms trade in a more substantial way, and revive the Saturday Night Special ban along with the assault weapons regulations (way more people get killed by the former than the latter). Next, we need a massive buy back program for all weapons. Give fair value. Pay cash. Yeah, it will work!  Look at Australia. Destroy all of the weapons, just like what we did in Cash for Clunkers…..

Next, we need a tax on all gun and ammunition sales. Given the enormous burden of gun violence on the state for both policing, prisons, and health care and disability—I’m thinking that a tax of 500% is not out of line at all. That would mean that the killing machine that the last six mass murderers used in the US would cost $3250 instead of $650—though maybe it should be more for those kind of guns…..

All of the rounds used in Saturday Night Specials should be eliminated from production. This would have a huge effect on homicide and suicide in poor inner-city communities, particularly when combined with buy-back programs. 25 cal, 32, 38, 38-special….worthless shit that should not even be legal to produce or sell.

No gun should have a magazine carrying more than 7 rounds. End of Discussion. If you need more than that, you’re a fucking terrorist. You shouldn’t need more than one shot. So, why do you? Unless you’re a bad guy with a gun.

What we really need is for every African American Man in this nation to run out and buy an assault weapon and get a conceal/open carry license. They then need to parade around in public scaring the white people. A few of our brave soldiers will, of course, be murdered by pigs, but, eventually, we’ll get gun control and maybe also control over our police state.

Yeah, the police state. I learned about that when I was a kid working with Octavia Booker and Mark Smallwood and Harold Peavey. I never knew that police would pull you over and beat the shit out of you, until Booker came to work fucked up one day. I had to duck down when we drove out to their places to party after work. They said there’d be cops and if they saw a white guy with black guys, we’d be fucked. I deferred to their experience. The effect of this harassment and oppression is devastating. I’ll never forget when my good friend Victor Anderson reflexively dove to the ground upon seeing a cop who hailed us near the parking lot at Vanderbilt. Victor, a tenured professor at Vanderbilt, laid on the ground and said “don’t shoot me, don’t shoot me, please.” I thought it was kind of funny at the time…I don’t anymore.