Every time a new shooting occurs, it’s a tragedy. No words can begin to describe the senseless violence of a mass shooting.
But it’s even more of a tragedy when the media — with the help of the military, in this case — is quick to report that an alleged suspect in such shootings was seeking mental health treatment for a concern. Especially when it ended up having nothing to do with the shootings.
As it turns out, Ivan Lopez’s mental health had little to do with the shootings at Fort Hood this past Wednesday. Instead he was angry about his request to take a leave of absence. He was told to come back the next day to get the leave of absence form, which apparently angered him. He then came back later with a gun he legally purchased off-base, and proceeded to kill three people, and wounded 16 others.
But the media, always quick to jump on the mental illness bandwagon as an explanation for violence (despite the lack of scientific evidence connecting the two), was telling a different story on Wednesday and Thursday:
- TIME: Fort Hood Shooter’s Mental Health Linked to Rampage
- ABC News: Fort Hood Shooting: Soldier With ‘Mental Health Issues’ Kills 3, Self
- Fox News: Fort Hood: Yet another tragedy from our broken mental health care system
- Huffington Post: Fort Hood Gunman Was Iraq War Vet Being Treated For Mental Illness
This is just a small sampling of the absurd link virtually all media was quick to draw once news of the shooting was released. It’s absurd because of the lack of scientific data connecting the two. It would be akin to reporting on the fact that the suspected murderer was being treated for kidney cancer, or had the flu.
It’s this kind of subtle prejudice and discrimination that makes people want to continue to hide their mental illness. “Oh, he was diagnosed with PTSD? That explains his murderous rampage, definitely!”
Producers, writers and journalists of all colors should work harder to avoid this kind of stigmatization of people with mental illness. A person’s mental health status has no bearing on their ability or desire to commit violence — so don’t report it. It’s not relevant.
What turns out to be relevant is that this was an ordinary Joe guy who was pushed too far in his anger, went and got his gun, and showed everyone who was going to have the last word. Like tens of thousands of other murderers in our country.
And yes, the military is as much to blame for first putting this information in the news organization’s sights — Gen. Mark A. Milley, the commander of Fort Hood, said the soldier, served four months in Iraq in 2011 and had “mental health issues.” Perhaps the good general was being hopeful that his behavior could be attributed to those “issues,” rather than an ordinary dispute gone horribly wrong.
Not as sexy a story, admittedly. But one that every news outlet was finally reporting on Friday, when they finally had some facts and eyewitness accounts to report on.
Read the NY Times report on the shooting: Dispute Over Leave Agitated Ft. Hood Soldier Before Shooting