Were the Murderers of Emmett Till Mentally Ill?

Most commentators have not sunk to the depths of depravity some rightwing pundits have, who claimed argued the recent church massacre wasn’t racially motivated, but an attack on religious freedom. Because when the killer told one of church members, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go”, I doubt he was referring to Methodists (Arminianism just gets people all het up I suppose). Friends of his have stated he was a racist.

What this is not is insanity, any more than any number of lynchings or murders were ‘insane.’ When three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi, no one thought mental illness was involved. Nor was it seen as some outlier, something completely alien to the culture. We used to, at least, recognize this inhumanity for what it is, the bitter, evil fruits of racist ideology.

For most racists never murdered. In the segregation era, many simply wanted to ignore the apartheid state they created (and benefited from). If they became too noticeable or unpleasant, they wanted some police force to ‘calm things down.’ Since that usually happened in those neighborhoods, it was all too easy to ignore the boot, the jack, and the fist.

Lots of people believe stupid, irrational, and foolish things, things they know yet are not true. Thankfully, they do not lead most people to murder. They still can be quite prevalent, and quite pernicious.

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8 Responses to Were the Murderers of Emmett Till Mentally Ill?

  1. Omri says:

    I’ll wait for a full report on Roof’s history with drugs before judging this yea or nay, but if it is mental illness, that calls for MORE action against the racism rife in that environment, not less.

    Schizophrenics in particular, and mentally ill people in general, absorb suggestions from whatever is floating around them. In the early 20th Century, it was common for them to report apparitions of the Virgin Mary. After the 1950’s, these were displaced by space aliens. The rate at which such people attack Jewish people and institutions is a direct correlate to the extent of antisemitism in the society around them. The same with violence against blacks. If all it takes is newfound access to guns for someone like this guy to go shoot up a black church, then it’s time to discuss just how loose gun access is in the area, and whether the locals need to look in the mirror and think how much of a part they had in suggesting a suggestible man to do what he did.

    Because we will always, always, have mentally ill people among us.

    • Dbp says:

      I see no indication that he was mentally ill. And even if he was, he was still a white supremacist. There’s a picture of him in a coat with apartheid era flags on it. Mental illness is a distraction from the real problems involved, namely racism and crazy easy access to guns and gun culture. He got one for his birthday….shortly after he got arrested for drugs. He had a family that looked at one of their members who probably said white supremacist shit around them, got arrested for drugs, and they then decided a gun was a thing they needed in his life.
      As long as “mental illness” is in play, we will never as a society address these problems because everyone can fall back on mental illness. But you notice who never ever seems to suffer mental illness? Minorities. White people who go on shooting sprees are almost always deemed mentally I’ll by the public, but the second an unarmed black person gets shot by a cop, he or she is immediately a criminal. It’s not a coincidence “maybe he was a bad person surrounded by bad ideas” doesn’t come into play very often when white people commit major crimes but that description is applied to all black people when anything at all happens to draw attention to black people or just one black person.
      So please, stop talking about mental illness 1) before anyone even determines he’s mentally ill 2) you don’t have to be mentally ill to do this shit. Emmett’s murderers are a good example of this. 3) talking about “mental illness” in these contexts doesn’t help the mentally ill, further stigmatizes them and it derails the conversation from important discussions on society wide issues like gun culture.

      Just to make this even longer, how come it seems that white gunmen seem to be the only ones mentally ill? No one ever goes “this rapist was probably mentally ill.” Or “this bank robber was mentally ill,” or “this graffiti artist was mentally ill.” It only ever seems to come up with white gunmen. (Notice the recent Muslim shooters weren’t considered to be mentally ill)

      • Omri says:


        As long as “mental illness” is in play, we will never as a society address these problems because everyone can fall back on mental illness.”

        And so long as it isn’t in play, we can just throw the book at this guy and think we’ve responded well enough.

        And then the next guy.

        And then the next guy.

      • Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

        (Notice the recent Muslim shooters weren’t considered to be mentally ill)

        I believe some things were said about the “underpants bomber”.

        • Omri says:

          And the European spree shooters over the last two years. And a long string of antisemitic assailants. (E.g. the Kansas City shootings, Buford Furrow, et cetera. Jews have along history of being attacked by classic schizophrenics.)

          And for some cases it’s true.

          • dr2chase says:

            Seems to me the point of the exercise is to always find an excuse to do nothing. If it’s blacks-or-muslims committing crimes, it’s not mental illness because we can blame culture. If it’s whites committing crimes, it’s not culture because our white culture is teh awsum, so instead it’s mental illness. Either way, it’s not the guns, we don’t have to change our (white) culture or do diddly shit abour racism, and we don’t actually have to spend any time or money on ensuring access to quality care for people with mental health issues, because once we’ve decided that it wasn’t caused by pervasive racism we’re done.

            It’s amusing to contrast the sort of defense-in-depth that gets taken for many safety-critical engineered systems, versus the resistance to anything like that in the social sphere. Shut down the official use of confederate flags? Nope. Get rid of memorials and official names honoring confederate war hereos. Nope. Do something about easy access to guns and bullets at the drop of a hat? Nope. Ensure that people who need mental health care can get it? Nope. Destigmatize mental health issues so that people will be more willing to get help? Nope. (And yes, it’s hard, someone who’s bipolar-manic doesn’t want treatment, someone who’s bipolar depressed may not be able to act to get treatment. Mitigate, not cure. Do better, study failures, think and iterate.)

            And regarding the whole schizophrenia thing, I do recall discussing this with a friend whose brother is a medium-functioning schizophrenic, and remarking that it seemed a lot more like a continuum where we decided to draw an arbitrary line, and there were plenty of people designated “sane” who were dancing quite close to that line. It would not hurt at all to dial down the social craziness in general.

            • Omri says:

              “It would not hurt at all to dial down the social craziness in general.”

              Precisely my point. There are already racist murderers on death row from previous outrages. It didn’t prevent this one. And throwing the book at Roof won’t prevent the next. But Roof didn’t come from a vacuum. His perception that “they’re taking over” came from a lot of loose talk to that effect.

  2. I would submit that racism *is* a form of mental illness. Major Asshole Disorder, Recurrent, Severe with Socially Disruptive Features. The only recommended treatment modality is mandatory inpatient coursework on population genetics.

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