Mental Illness is not the Only Issue
by Gelato on March 20, 2016 - 8:03pm
On January 22nd of 2016, a shooting occurred at the Dene high school campus of the La Loche Community School in Saskatchewan. Authors Ben Spurr and Joanna Smith make it very clear to their readers that the 17 year old male suspect, who is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder, was a victim of bullying and kept to himself. The accused first opened fire on two brothers, aged 15 and 17, in their home before killing two teachers and injuring seven other in the community school.
In their coverage of the La Loche shooting, Spurr and Smith narrow the incident down to a single cause. Through their inclusion of interviews and testimonials all saying the same things with different words, the authors suggest that bullying and mental illness are the root cause for the shooting. Yet as Jackson Katz points out in his documentary Tough Guise 2, while mental illness has a role in incidents such as this one, "violence can't be reduced to mental illness on its own." There are plenty of women who suffer from bullying and mental illness but "98% of school shootings and rampage killings [are] committed by men." (Katz) The article doesn't touch upon masculinity and how our culture's narrow ways of defining manhood and celebrating violent masculinity (Katz) can also responsible.
Additionally, the boy accused of committing the crime is referred to most frequently with gender neutral terms such as "the suspect", "the 17 year-old" and "the alleged shooter", continuously glazing over the fact that it was once again a man responsible. Spurr and Smith, however, are not alone in their gender neutral and single cause way of communicating the shooting, as the majority of mainstream coverage of mass killings are dealt with using the same methods. Violence by boys or between boys is often reported as kids violence or violence with youth. Bullied, teased and described as a loner, this blow to the shooter's 'manhood' could very well been the underlying cause of the tragedy that befell La Loche.
The article's black and white coverage also gives no insight into the compounded difficulties of living in a community with a large native population that suffers from a lack of general support and funding. The authors only briefly mentions that the events of January 22nd "sparked a discussion about the need for more social services in northern communities." This is not to say that the issue is one whose cause can be attributed to the suspect living in a native community but that intersectionality can play a role in outwards expressions of violence. The authors in fact do a good job of not making the minority group the forefront of the story but the lack of any reporting, besides a single sentence, on the situation in native communities as a possible factor feels as though they are dismissing the issue completely and Canada has spent too long hushing up the poor conditions our first nations suffer in.
Spurr and Smith aren't wrong when they say that bullying and mental illness are potential causes, but they, and many others, continue to miss that this kind of violence is a men's issue. When asking how or why these mass killing continue to happen, we must address how our culture "equates manhood with invulnerability and [...] shames men who admit to being in emotional pain" (Katz) and instead glorifies violence as a way to deal with how they are feeling. Hopefully, articles dealing with this subject material will start to address shootings not only as a men's issue but an issue of the systems that reinforce and normalize men's violence.
Katz, Jackson, dir. Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood & American Culture. Media Education Foundation, 2013. DVD.
Spurr, Ben and Smith, Joanna (2016, January 25). Suspect in La Loche shooting was bullied, a loner, says source close to accused. Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/01/25/suspect-in-la-loche-shooti...