In Buffalo, Effects of Ignoring the Mental Health Crisis Among Our Children
And the cost of ignoring it.
In New York State, schools were forced to close for COVID-19 the week of March 16, 2020. They remained closed the rest of the school year. Around the state, several districts either stayed closed or had repeated closures. The same can be said across the country.
On May 5, I wrote about the dangers of the mental health crisis we saw ourselves in. A large part of what we're seeing, particularly among our youth, is due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies that forced our kids into isolation. But the pandemic and those policies did contribute in pushing more and more of our kids into new, more dangerous social circles - those on social media.
In Buffalo, New York, an 18-year-old male opened fire in a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood. He drove hours from his home in Conklin, New York, to commit the act of terror. It seems very likely that this was planned and executed according to that plan.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul is partially correct in blaming "social media" and its influence, but the focus is largely superficial. She wants law enforcement to find any and all examples of "hate speech."
NY State Attorney General Letitia James called for people to tamp down anger and proceed in love. She also said they will be continuing to “investigate social media” and that her office would be focused on that, as they have been “the last few months.”
Governor Kathy Hochul picked up on that tack, as well, saying they needed to look more into “social media” and algorithms to identify “hate speech.” She said they were going to be sitting down with social media companies to see if they were doing everything they could to shut down hate speech. She termed the attack “white supremacy terrorism.”
The problem isn't "hate speech" or "social media" in general. Those happen all the time and, while vile, they rarely lead to physical violence on the part of the racists using the speech. I realize that, given the raw emotion of the moment, it's difficult to nuance policy wishes on such things, but it's important to understand what's going on.
Our children - and, despite being 18 years old, the supermarket shooter is still emotionally and socially a child - have turned to various social media platforms to find their "community." In the vast majority of cases, it's harmless. Just kids going online, looking for acceptance. In a growing number of cases, that need for acceptance is causing kids to do more and more things we would consider problematic for that acceptance.
They are turning to sexual behavior, identity change, and worse to get that acceptance. For children susceptible to mental illness, though, we see what can happen.
'A school official reported that this very troubled young man had made statements indicating that he wanted to do a shooting, either at a graduation ceremony, or sometime after,' a government source told the Buffalo News.
After police looked into the account, Gendron was referred for mental health evaluation and counseling.
Classmates said that he often acted strangely at times and espoused extremist views on politics.
Last year, one former student recalled, Gendron wore a hazmat suit to school for a week. She believed it had something to do with protecting himself from the coronavirus, but she didn't rule out the fact that he was making a joke.
'It was the most extra thing that I ever saw him do,' a former classmate who asked not to be named said.
There were other indications of Gendron's fragile mental state.
During a class exercise in political class in which the students created their own countries with the government of their choice, Gendron's pick was an autocratic regime that the classmate described as 'Hitler-esque.'
'His views were extreme,' the student said. 'You could pick any form of government that you wanted and he picked a totalitarian government.'
It appears that, rather than a political extremist, this is a kid who fell through the cracks. Remember, he's 18 years old. When the pandemic began he was just a kid. A kid with issues whose life, like so many others, was turned upside down. Especially when it comes to social and emotional learning and health.
If his reported affiliations online are accurate, there is reason to believe that he was indeed radicalized. Sites like 4chan are cesspools where online rhetoric is concerned, though they themselves are not actively trying to recruit people to join neo-Nazi cults or the like. You can find users there who are, though, and the lack of meaningful moderation on the site makes it possible for those elements to find the right recruits.
Incidentally, it appears that the Left's immediate leap to blaming Tucker Carlson, Fox News, and the GOP for the shooting - rather than the shooter's mental health - was very premature. As our sister site PJ Media reported, his manifesto rejected conservatism.
When I was 12 I was deep into communist ideology, talk to anyone from my old highschool and ask about me and you will hear that. From age 15 to 18 however, I consistently moved farther to the right. On the political compass I fall in the mild-moderate authoritarian left category, and I would prefer to be called a populist.
I would prefer to call myself a populist. But you can call me an ethno-nationalist eco-fascist national socialist if you want, I wouldn’t disagree with you... [C]onservativism is corporatism in disguise, I want no part of it.
In fact, he went on to attack figures on the right directly.
Joe Lockhart @joelockhartMore blood on the hands of @tuckercarlson and @foxnews this killer used their racist talking points to justify killing 10 people. Carlson won't stop because as he explained to the NYTimes, it's good for ratings. Lives be damned. As Carlson will be at judgement day. https://t.co/fse5bRvEbN
This isn't some radical conservative. He's also not some radical leftist. He is a deeply disturbed individual who was socially isolated and filled the void with whatever extreme ideology and community he could find. The quickness in making it political, as the Left did, was beyond disgusting. Especially from a group that showed no self-reflection when people from their own side actually does things like this.
But for someone like the supermarket shooter, someone who clearly has some psychological issues, taking that person from membership to martyr for some online cause doesn't take much. Kids like this one seek acceptance from strange groups because they have isolated themselves from the traditional social groups (or society has isolated that person from those groups for whatever reason) and they will do anything to get that acceptance.
This was the act of a mentally ill kid, one who has been forced (in multiple ways by multiple people) into social circles that he may not normally have sought out otherwise. And as a result, he was swayed by people with horribly offensive views and did the unthinkable.
The overwhelming urge to make this political does not address the real issue. This was a kid with clear issues that slipped through the cracks of the system.