When Do You Lose Your Right To Be Treated Humanely

It always fascinates me the way ‘Joe (and Jill) Public’ start venting in the comments sections of news articles and social media when there has been some type of head-line grabbing violent crime reported.  It’s true the media themselves tend to make, what I call a, hash of reporting, because they report what it suits them to report, what will get them readers (and ultimately revenue) rather than what we, the public, need to know.

But it’s what the everyday reader has to say that really grips me because suddenly it seems as if the article is not about a human being but rather some ‘non-human’ (some people use the term ‘animal’ but I am reluctant to use that term because animals don’t general commit violent crime).

I have never been in the shoes of a person who has lost a family member, or loved one to violent crime, and so I can only begin to imagine what a terrible experience that must be.  In what I am saying I don’t mean to take away from the grief of people who have just had a loved one ripped away from them by a crime.  Nor am I commenting on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ behaviour of the perpetrator. Rather what my focus is on what point do we as the general public decide that a person’s crime or behaviour is so bad that they don’t deserve to be treated with compassion as a human being?

Most recently in the news has been the case of Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD officer who went on a killing spree.  From various comments I have read today, it seems few have much regard for his humanity.  It was the same for Adam Lanza who killed 28 people in Connecticut in December, 2012.

“I have no sympathy for him”

“He’s a nut job”

“He doesn’t deserve to live”

“He clearly needed mental help”

And on the comments and judgements go.  It’s like suddenly the public view is that this person (the perpetrator) is no longer human.  If he burns alive in a cabin, then somehow he deserves it, for the things he has done.  So often people in this situation get written off as being presumed to have a mental illness.  What else would make them act like this?  And if they have a mental illness then they don’t deserve any better.

Well actually let’s just remember that the majority of people with mental illness don’t act like this.  What’s more, if they get the treatment and support they need, when they need it, such violence can be prevented.  But instead the Christopher Dorner’s and Adam Lanza’s of our world get written off.  “No longer human kind, they deserve what they get.”  By the way I’m not saying either of them had a mental illness, but it does seem to be the reason given for so much crime like this.

I’m wondering though, what it feels like to be the family of these people who have committed horrific crimes.  Actually I think that is almost beyond our comprehension.  It’s too easy, in my mind, to forget that these people had families.  They may have had friends.  They had people who love them.  And how must it feel to be those people, firstly having to bear the weight of what their loved one has done, and then carry the general public’s judgement of their loved one.

Actually it must be almost crazy-making to be in that situation.  How do you grieve for your loved one, while the world hates them?  Grieving for the loss of a family member is hard enough usually, but to carry the hate of the world against that person you loved?  That would be too much.  I suspect that’s why the media seem to avoid the Dorner family or the Lanza family.  Not because they don’t want the ‘dirt’ but because it doesn’t sit right on their conscious to feel sad for them in their loss, and to balance their hate  for the perpetrator.  It’s not about wanting to give them space to grief either.  It’s just too damn uncomfortable.

If we can start to express compassion for the families of those people, then maybe we are on track to realise that in spite of their crimes, these perpetrator’s are/were human beings… just like us.  Surely for some to inflict such crime, something has gone terribly wrong somewhere.  While I don’t for one moment condone the crimes committed, I can’t help but ask “what went wrong?” and “how could this have been avoided?”.

I’m sure there are lots of answers to those questions.  Some of them we know to be around mental illness and treatment.  In other cases it might be some other type of illness, or something completely different.  I just hate the thought that we write people off as human beings so easily.  I hate their crime, but to me, they will always be deserving of as much care as I deserve.  Their families deserve as much compassion as the victims’ families.  For really, in these situations, actually, everyone involved has become a victim.

“It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality.” 

―    Rick Riordan,    The Lightning Thief

Just Like Me

It’s been a busy week for the news media.  Wow, I guess they’ve all earned their negotiated salaries, although I do wish they would be paid somehow on the basis of what truth they spread.  Social media has also been busy.  Often partly a response to the news media, sometimes spread what they’ve called their own ‘truth’ and sometimes simply spreading lies (like the news), or popular opinion.

It’s made me pretty sad.  Sometimes it’s made me cry, that they can get away with saying the things the do, let alone convincing a somewhat gullible public that they are right.  Other times I took my own advice (Step Away From Your Screen) and literally stepped away from my computer, my television and my phone.  I had to do that to save my mental health because the whirlwind of information (true or otherwise) has wanted to wrap me up in it.  At times I wanted to fight some battles (because that’s who I am) but mostly I took my advice, backed off and watched with sadness.

Image credit: Chenspec/Wikipedia.com

During this week a lot of people have died in this world as a direct result of violence. There are the many who have made the news media, but there are also many more that we never hear about, yet their death’s are just as tragic.

The obvious victims are the 27 children and adults who were shot in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  A tragic loss of so many lives that were mostly just beginning.

For a moment I want to consider two other deaths I have been aware of this week.  One is the 28th person to die at Sandy Hook, the shooter himself who turned the gun on himself.  Another tragic death I heard about this week was a man in England who was murdered in his own home. The details aren’t really important to what I am thinking, apart from to say that it appears his death was some type of vigilante pay back for a crime this man had recently been accused of having carried out.

In the case of both these men, the news media and the social media have played a part in spreading accusations and generalisations.  One man we have heard a lot about, the other you probably haven’t heard about.  What hasn’t been given is the truth.  We don’t know what is real and what is simply hearsay.

What I do know is that both of these men were just like me, in some ways.  They weren’t so different.  They had blood flowing through their veins. Like me they needed love, affection and acceptance.  At some point they had both probably been hurt badly, just like me.  These men were human beings, just like me, who it appeared that for some reason, everything went askew.

Maybe it was mental illness, maybe it was a developmental disorder.  Maybe too, they had some degree of evil (whatever that means) in them to drive them to the things they are said to have done.  Those things haven’t been clarified, yet the world has been quick to condemn.  Of the Connecticut young man I have seen a number of people describe him as ‘not human’.

That’s what leaves me sad.  I’m not condoning the actions of either of these men.  It was all wrong, and terribly devastating, particularly for those who lost family members and friends.

But these men were human, just like me.  And somewhere in spite of the horror of what has been happening, someone is no doubt grieving for them too.

I believe that these men were victims too.  I know that might be an unpopular stance to take, and I have no problem with people disagreeing with what I write (as long as I don’t get abused for an opinion).

Once, a number of years ago, both men were little boys and sometimes I find it helpful to think about them as when they were innocent children.  Again, because of the tragic death of 20 children last week it’s even hard to look at one of these men that way.  It just helps me to realise that while something has gone terrible wrong, these men were once just like you and me.

Yesterday I was at a barbeque (it’s summer here) which was a Christmas party for a group of people I know.  At one point I was sitting at a table with a lovely young man who I don’t know very well.  I’ve only met him a couple of times but what I do know is that he has Asperger’s Syndrome (a condition that has been subject to much media scrutiny this week).

It occurred to me while I was sitting eating my lunch with him, that it must be pretty difficult for him this week.  I know what it’s like to be looked down upon because I have a mental illness.  This young man doesn’t even have a mental illness (that I know of) yet the media have been putting him and other sufferers of Asperger’s in a group and saying we have to be careful of these people.  Apparently they might do ‘what Adam Lanza did’.

This man I was sitting with was, again, just like me.  He doesn’t deserve to be judged just because he has a disorder that makes him a little different from me.  Like me, he was enjoying having a drink, eating fresh berries and getting silly ‘Secret Santa’ gifts.  He had less to say for himself than most people on the group but that was the only noticeable difference.  He was, like me, having a good time.

Let me be very clear.  I’m not saying that horrific crimes committed against innocent people are acceptable.  They’re not.  It’s a terrible tragedy what has happened this week.  But we can’t afford to be looking at these people and thinking they are somehow different to us.  I’m not qualified to say why they might have done what they did.  I do have views on things that need to be done in society to prevent this from happening again, but those aren’t important right now.

What is important to me is that all the people who died this week (somewhere in the world) as a result of violence are human like me.  Someone loved them.  And to me, that puts a slightly different spin on things.

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy,  we can all sense a mysterious connection
to each other.”

~  Meryl Streep

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have
been all of these.” 

―    Siddhārtha Gautama