Sarah Palin didn’t pull the trigger in the Tucson shootings
by Debra DeAngelo
In the wake of the horrific Tucson shootings last month, it’d be so easy to point the finger to the Right and say, “It’s all their fault!” Many on the Left have already smugly done just that. And you betcha, it’s ever so tempting to blame that rootin’ tootin’ Mama Grizzly herself, with her crosshairs over Congressman Gabrielle Giffords’ district. But then you’d logically have to blame the Beatles for the Tate/LaBianca murders and literature for John Lennon’s assassination. Let’s aim for some consistency of thought.
True, the Red Team/Blue Team histrionics are poisoning the political waters in this country, but they didn’t cause what happened in Tucson, nor did the Tea Party, as was initially speculated. Sure, Tea Partiers go to their rallies, wear silly hats and carry ridiculous posters, pump each other up with a cornucopia of outrageous misinformation and propaganda, and get warm, tingly feelings in their netherparts every time the Second Amendment is mentioned (and require mop-up if it’s mentioned by Glenn Beck), but 99.9 percent of them don’t go out and do what Jared Loughner did in Tucson.
Even IF Loughner attended Tea Party rallies, it’s as erroneous to blame the Tea Party for his rampage as blaming McDonald’s because he liked Big Macs.
Which doesn’t mean the political vitriol (the buzz-word of the moment) is positive or productive, it just means the connection to the Tucson shootings is erroneous. If you think it’s not, draw a line from the Son of Sam murders to Labrador retrievers too.
The root causes of the Tucson shootings (as well as the other aforementioned murders) are mental illness and a lack of resources for identifying and treating the mentally ill, including institutions for those who are a danger to themselves or others, where the mentally ill can get treatment and learn the life skills necessary to safely rejoin the general population.
Loughner’s friend appeared on the Today Show last month, and described sudden, extreme changes in Loughner’s appearance and behavior over the last year. There was the first red flag.
“Jared needed help, and Jared didn’t get help,” said the friend.
Stop right there. That’s why six people died in Tucson last month, and 12 others were wounded. Not Sarah Palin.
Loughner’s behavior changes could be caused by two things: mental illness or substance abuse. I’m betting on the former, even though it was reported that Loughner had been smoking pot and salvia.
However, most pot-smokers don’t go out and shoot people, they just scarf down a bag of Oreos and discover that reruns of “The Brady Bunch” are amazingly, ridiculously funny, and then fall asleep with cookie crumbs all over their T-shirts. Salvia, I know nothing about. But I’m guessing that it doesn’t normally include shooting into crowds at shopping centers. The key word here: “normally.” Flood an atypically wired brain with a mind-altering substance (or Tea Party rallies), and the results may be very unusual.
In Loughner’s case, separating the behavior from the substance abuse should have been the first step, because you can’t attempt therapy with a bong. Once clean and sober, a psychological evaluation was needed to determine the next step, from short-term counseling to ongoing therapy, and maybe specialized support groups or transitional care.
Clearly, a lack of mental health resources was a factor in Loughner’s homicidal rampage. Twenty and thirty years ago, when I was working in the social services field, there were an abundance of mental health resources — hotlines, free counseling centers, mental health organizations and agencies, non-profit groups — all practically unheard of now.
The curiously sainted Ronald Reagan made it fashionable in the 1980s to cut back government funding for mental health services and institutions, and one by one, peripheral programs either became overwhelmed or dried up from lack of funding.
Add to this mix cutbacks in public school budgets, resulting in fewer school counselors, nurses and psychologists to spot problems early on, the high cost of medical insurance that covers mental health treatment and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and the watering down or disappearance altogether of non-profit groups offering mental health assistance, and our society is primed for unstable people to start drowning psychologically. It’s tragic enough when someone gurgles and sinks below the surface of sanity; sadder yet when he pulls others down with him, as did Loughner in Tucson.
On the Today Show, Loughner’s friend said his bizarre behavior reached critical mass when Loughner became upset after Giffords couldn’t answer his indecipherable — and classically schizophrenic — question (“What is politics if words have no meaning?”) at a public appearance, triggering his angry obsession with Giffords and a further deterioration in his behavior. He stated unequivocally that politics wasn’t Loughner’s issue. Something else was going on in his mind that no one else could understand.
A Jan. 12 New York Times story details Loughner’s disturbing behavior that resulted in his suspension from college. So disturbing was it that school campus officials sent two campus officers to deliver the suspension notice, who in turn requested backup from two more officers. Clearly, school officials were so concerned about Loughner that they actually feared for their safety in his presence, but either no one was trained to identify his mental illness and direct him toward appropriate treatment or the treatment simply wasn’t available.
Jared needed help, and Jared didn’t get help.
And there are lots more Jareds out there.
So, what are we going to do about it? Reach into our wallets and start funding mental health programs? Develop support systems at the community level? Whatever it is, we need to talk about it. And it must be a more productive conversation than the Red/Blue finger pointing. Because what happened in Tucson is nobody’s fault. But it’s everyone’s problem.