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