A horror was perpetrated against eight victims of Rodrick Dantzler this past Thursday when he hunted down, shot, and killed his wife and daughter, killed five other people, and wounded an eighth. After evading police, he terrorized a family of three by taking them hostage before finally killing himself. My heart goes out to all the victims of this horrendous rampage, including all the family members of those who had been killed and hurt.
Dantzler had a history of violent behavior. Four people had filed personal protection orders against him including his own mother. He did time more than once for violently attacking people.
Sadly, as in the shooting of Congresswoman Garbrielle Giffords back in January, the tragedy gets compounded by ties made between the attacks and the attackers' mental health diagnosis. This time around, according to the Grand Rapids Press,
[Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin] Belk said he did not know Dantzler’s mental-health diagnosis, but said he was “obviously a very troubled individual involved in some horrible activity.”
Why is Belk speculating about Dantzler’s mental-health diagnosis? Whether or not Dantzler had a mental illness is no more relevant to this situation than the fact that he was African-American. In fact, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of crime than the general population, and less likely to be perpetrators of crime.
I wonder why people feel the need to talk about mental illnesses when surprising and horrific crimes like this take place. Movies and TV shows frequently finger mental illness as the cause of someone’s violent behavior need some of the blame. So does the assumption by many, if not most journalists, who accept the thesis that horrendous crimes must always have mental illness as an explanation for the perpetrator’s behavior. What do you think?
Let's pray for the victims' family and friends. And let's not multiply the tragedy by assuming that mental illness caused this rampage.
Update: Monday, July 11
In our society, the default assumption, when a person commits a horrible crime like this, is that the person MUST have had a mental illness, and that the mental illness is the sole explanation for the criminal behavior. News reports now say that Dantzler did have a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. Sadly, now many people are focusing on that one aspect of the whole of his being and saying that it explains his violent behavior. That's what I'm arguing against. Having bi-polar disorder does not explain why he committed these crimes any more than the fact that he was male or 34 years old.
A combination of factors, in which serious mental illness is part of the mix, may result in violent behavior. For example, in the article, "Violence and Schizophrenia," author Peggy Thompson notes, "if an individual with schizophrenia who is not being treated and is abusing drugs moves in next door, then yes, people have a legitimate reason to fear that person." On the other hand, she also notes, "Individuals with schizophrenia who are being treated are no more dangerous than the general population"
Update: Friday, July 29
After the 2010 tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona, Scientific American wondered "What Causes Someone to Act on Violent Impulses and Commit Murder?" Marco Iacoboni, a UCLA professor of psychiatry, cited University of Michigan proessor of social psychology Richard Nisbett, "the world's greatest authority on intelligence," as stating plainly that he'd rather have his son be high in self-control than intelligence." According to Iacoboni, "Self-control is key to a well-functioning life, becaus our brain makes us easily [susceptible] to all sorts of influences. Watching a movie showing violent acts predisposes us to act violently. Even just listening to violent rhetoric makes us more inclined to be violent. . . . This is why control mechanisms are so important." (Larry Greenemeier, "What Causes Someone to Act on Violent Impulses and Commit Murder?" www.scientificamerican.com (1/12/11), quoted in Leadership Journal, Spring 2011, p. 55.)