When mental illness does not excuse racist crimes

Gregory Bush, the Kroger shooting suspect, is a white supremacist. His mental illness won’t excuse him or somehow make him exempt from being prosecuted as a racist murderer.

I’m mentally ill. I’ve done things I’m embarrassed by.

I’ve hurt people.

I’ve said terrible things and caused trauma to those close to me, and to some who aren’t, because of my psychosis.

That’s on me.

If I blamed my mental illness for those things, I would still be doing them.

Before we heard anything about Bush being prosecuted under hate crime statutes, we heard a lot more about his mental illness. Some sources claim he identified himself as paranoid schizophrenic. Others have quoted him as saying he has schizoaffective disorder. The comments under these articles are rife with white people claiming that his mental illness is to blame for these murders.

Some of these comments are a gut punch to anyone who has been institutionalized or diagnosed with a serious mental illness. We need to bring back sanatoriums. There are too many mentally ill people walking free. Once he was off his meds, he wasn’t responsible for what he did.

The fact that Gregory Bush could have a firearm, probably legally, is a failure on many fronts. Bush was known to carry a gun at all times. He had attacked his parents and his ex-wife. His right to have a gun was suspended because he is a violent person.

Court records reflect a history of domestic violence and racism. While his political posts are few and far between, they largely support racist causes, such as a petition to reinstate a white police officer who was photographed smiling and giving a thumbs up next to an unconscious black woman.

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It was easy to predict that Bush was going to hurt someone else and probably kill someone. All the signs were there, even in the absence of a mental illness diagnosis. He felt entitled to physically attack others, and the law showed him that this was excusable. His wrist was slapped back down to his holster time and again.

His beliefs are not uncommon. In fact, they are supported completely by the system that allowed him to legally obtain firearms repeatedly, despite his violent behavior. It’s likely that Bush met less punishment in past than he would have, had he not had a diagnosed mental illness. It’s certain that he met less punishment than he would have if he were mentally ill and black.

The system supports white men who behave this way. The messages they receive from our media, our educational system, the sympathetic portrayal of white terrorists, such as Dylan Roof, the message that they are worthy of more respect than they get, that their pride of place in society is being chipped away by immigrants and black people and gender equality — all this contributed to a typical perspective that fueled these murders.

If Bush is delusional, he is so in the way that is shared by a huge swath of white people in the U.S. We cannot call this a mental illness — it’s a lack of integrity and an inability to see beyond one’s own nose that causes this. There’s no shortage of media and rhetoric to support this point of view, even extending to our executive branch and U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s Bush’s privilege that allowed this to happen. If he had been a black man behaving the way he has for decades, he’d have been incarcerated or shot by police by now.

Blaming mental illness for racist murders hurts mentally ill people. We are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than other people, and especially vulnerable are those of us who are black or brown. It simultaneously excuses white, racist murderers and scapegoats those of us, who are already targets, to claim mental illness is what caused this tragedy.

Bush attempted to enter a black church before the Kroger shootings, police said. A short time before, 70 people were there. He failed to plan properly, and so he decided to go to a nearby public place and, by all accounts, kill black people there. He is accused of murdering two elders, beloved parents and grandparents, Maurice Stallard, 69 and Vicki Lee Jones, 67. Police say he murdered Stallard in front of his 12-year-old grandson.

There were many clues that Bush would do something like he is accused of doing, but mental illness is further down that list than is his obsession with guns, his history of domestic violence and a culture that tells him that, despite his drawing disability for his mental illness, others are destroying the fabric of our society by drawing public benefits. It serves those in power to pit poor people against one another, over race, over ethnicity and to scapegoat black and brown people. That’s not a mental illness — it’s just everyday white supremacy.

When mentally ill black people get killed by police, their mental illness is pointed to as threat enough that they deserved to die. When white supremacist murderers kill, mental illness is used as an excuse. It’s a one-sided coin that favors whiteness, and no matter how you flip it, black people die.

Gregory Bush is a white supremacist, and his mental illness doesn’t change that fact.

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