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We are living in a period in our country when white domestic terrorism appears to be on the rise, at the same time that law enforcement agencies and our criminal justice system are facing mounting charges of non-accountability with regards to the policing of Black Americans.

But, while racist methods of policing Blacks is centuries old, and based on erroneous assumptions of black pathology, which are constantly evolved for the times, white domestic terrorism is, peculiarly enough, excused, even “understood.”

Not only are white perpetrators of mass violence and terror excused. They’re humanized. By this I mean, experts and commentators selectively choose adjectives that aren’t loaded and minimizes reasons to be alarmed, to describe white domestic terrorists.

From the moment breaking news of white violence begins making the channel and print rounds, mainstream news organizations quickly amp up the exculpation process of white perpetrators.

Stories are primed to garner the maximum empathy, and white suspects are portrayed as “lone,” “troubled,” “disturbed,” or “mentally disabled.” Any and everything but “terrorist.”

The most recent example is how the Colorado Springs incident was covered.

Here the perpetrator, Robert Dear, a  57 year old thick-bearded White man, who killed 3 people and injured 9 during an attack on a Planned Parenthood facility, is described as a “lone gunman.”

If this strikes you as odd, given the broad brush employed to paint Islamic devotees since the attacks in Paris, I’m with you.

Other examples exist. Think back to the Waco brawl and the grisly tragedy at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, when white supremacist Dylan Roof killed 9 unsuspecting Black parishioners during a prayer meeting.

In both cases, media pundits made every effort to encourage empathy with, and understanding of, white suspects.

Too bad Black suspects aren’t given the same courtesy.

Entangled in a vicious web of stereotypes, Black people find themselves having to negotiate their existence. They find themselves having to regulate their behavior to an extent unrequired of white people, to avoid confirming racial tropes. Worst, such scrutiny of Black behavior is not a new phenomenon. It’s American history.

In American culture, EVERY Black person is suspect. Every Black person is guilty until proven innocent.

Both mentally abled and disabled Blacks.

However, because of the demand that Blacks appease Whites, make them feel at ease, through regulatory measures of behavior, mentally ill Black people, who, by definition, aren’t always able to meet this expectation, are at especial risk of fatal encounters with police officers.

Take Natasha McKenna (see image above), a schizophrenic black, Virginian woman “accidentally” killed in February while in police custody. The level of brutality she “provoked” included two black eyes, an amputated finger, and frequent tasering.

Or Anthony Hill, a Black male Air-force veteran suffering from bipolar disorder, who was shot dead by a Georgia officer on March 9 of this year. Reports reveal that Hill had displayed such behavior as “wandering The Heights apartment complex naked, crawling on the ground, knocking on doors, and hanging from a balcony,” according to Gawker.

In April, unarmed Milwaukean Dontre Hamilton, who’d been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was shot 14 times, during an “inappropriate pat-down.”

Then there’s the lack of justice for the family of Ezell Ford, who was killed by LAPD, April 2014, even after being alerted by his family that he had “mental problems.” The 25 year old Los Angelian had been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Despite this, just before he was killed, he was complying with officers and lying on the ground, according to reports.

The list goes on and on.

What other conclusion are we to derive from these examples but the obvious. When the suspect is Black, he’s never mentally ill, or “disturbed.” He’s never “developmentally disabled” (in the medical sense) or “cognitively impaired.”

He’s a criminal. Point blank.

While it’s true that white mentally ill persons have been the victims of fatal police encounters, when the suspect is white, that extra component of a cognitively impaired individual accruing no sympathy and diagnosis, and confirming racial stereotypes, is strikingly absent. That matters. Because

The history of the white imagination is embodied in the thesis that black criminality is congenital.

Assumptions of black criminality have been crucial and indispensable to fudging in-group (“white”) class boundaries and building a white identity.

Within the existential rubric of this racial hierarchy — whites at the top, blacks at the bottom, and an ambiguous middle — the black criminal, abstracted from any concrete economic problems and medical science, is the social pillar propping up white personhood, holding it together.

The truth is, for as long as race theory has existed in America, Blacks have always been cognitized as, in some way, mentally impaired. Able-minded Blacks fare no better.

Medical science was (and, in many ways, remains) a function of racist theory; and, according to the latter, all white persons, even mentally disable white bodies, are better, sounder, more deserving and naturally advantageous than Blacks.

On the flip side, in the context of current discussions of medically recognized mental disorders:

Black suspects can only meet the criteria of mental disability when it does not contradict the logic of white supremacy. Black suspects can only be disturbed or developmentally challenged when believing so confirms white supremacy’s paradigm of normalizing fear of black bodies.

And, though some are more culpable than others, no one is immune.

The psychology of racism is so deeply embedded in our culture, in all our institutions, that even Black officers read Blacks as criminal, as the case of Prince Jones and, more recently, Freddie Gray, proves.

Led by this insight, it’s not difficult to understand why Black suspects are never humanized, or point out the key claims we need to destroy in this heightened period of forcing the country to put in practice, at every level of society, the belief that black lives matter.

Related Content

How Black Police Officers Uphold White Supremacy

Stop Humanizing White Terrorists

How I Accidentally Upheld White Supremacy


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Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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