Sympathy for Austin bomber’s mental health reflects white privilege

Photograph Courtesy of Grizzly Staff

Kevin Leon

keleon@ursinus.edu

This month, five premeditated explosions over the span of 19 days went off in Austin, Texas. Some were premeditated towards people of color, but other victims weren’t so apparently targeted.

The first bomb, a small device hidden in a delivery box, went off on Mar. 2. It killed Anthony Stephan House.

The second and third bombs went off on Mar. 12. The second one was another apparently hand-delivered package that killed 17-year-old Draylen Mason and injured his mother. The third bomb injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman. At this point, all the victims had been people of color.

The fourth bomb went off on Mar. 18. This time, rather than the bomb being disguised as a package, the bomb was left on the side of a road and set up to be detonated by a trip wire. Two men in their early twenties were seriously injured.

A fifth bomb went off on Mar. 20 at a FedEx processing facility near San Antonio, Texas, eighty miles south of Austin. A sixth bomb was intercepted that same day. A suspicious package at a FedEx facility was reported to the authorities.

On Mar. 21, as authorities finally closed in on the suspect, 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, he pulled his vehicle over into a ditch and let off a final explosion, killing himself and injuring an officer.

According to Newsweek, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley suggested that Conditt was not a terrorist because in the recording he left behind, he did not self-identify as one. Manley described the recording as, “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.”

This is yet another instance in which a white male’s actions are, in a way, absolved by the media and authorities because of his mental health. It’s obvious that if it had been a person of color that carried out this series of attacks, the terrorist label would have been the default.

The media failing to use this word when referring to white men like Conditt or Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator of last month’s Parkland shooting, is nothing new. But that doesn’t make it any less exhausting. Same with the stream of sob-stories about Conditt and his challenges with mental health. Authorities love to point towards mental health challenges when it comes to white men killing others, but when a person of color is responsible, they quickly attack them.

The New York Times said, in reference to Michael Brown, a teenager killed by police in 2014, that “Michael Brown was no angel,” then proceeded to bring up the fact that he once stole a box of cigars, as if that justifies his execution by police. Contrarily, when reporting on the Austin bomber’s death, the Times mentioned he was a “‘nerdy’ young man from a ‘tight-knit, godly family.’”

With the Austin bombings, there was another blatant shortcoming: the coverage wasn’t as pronounced as it could have been. It took national news outlets until Mar. 12, when the second and third bombs went off, to take notice. And even then, it wasn’t exactly in the headlines. It took a while for people to take notice and become aware of what had been happening in the Texas capitol since the beginning of March. Had the victims all been white people, the story would have been plastered all over national T.V.

The president, who is quick to label minorities as criminals, rapists, and terrorists, referred to Conditt in a tweet posted after his death only as a “suspect.” White male terrorists are given an unrivaled level of sympathy based on the color of their skin.

A week after the terrorism ended, any talk of Conditt has turned to discussion of his mental health or has simply died out. Mental health seems to only matter when it can be used to deflect a white male’s acts of terror. This excuse stays in line with the notion that white people are the most innocent demographic.

And it’s disingenuous to place responsibility solely on mental health. The responsibility should fall on the person committing the act because mental health is no excuse to take other people’s lives. Many people of color also suffer from depression and other mental illnesses, yet it is entitled white men that carry out acts of terrorism against American citizens.

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