News that a suspected serial killer once said he wanted to “kill all white people” is naturally going to get attention all over the world.
But it will get less notice than it should that 22-year-old Fredrick Demond Scott, who is suspected of fatally shooting five middle-aged white Kansas City men out of nowhere, had for years exhibited the symptoms of schizophrenia.
There are a few reasons that a lot of us would just as soon not hear about that. First, the intensely personal: Citing a mental illness is seen as making an excuse, and as such, is seen as an affront to the victims and those who loved them. Brian Darby, whose father’s body was found in May on Indian Creek Trail, told The Star he feels disrespected by Scott’s mother’s account that her son suffers from schizophrenia.
Brian’s dad, 61-year-old Mike Darby, was the co-owner of the popular Coach’s Bar & Grill, which was closed by flooding a month ago and may well never reopen. After the loss of his father and then his father’s business, it’s not a stretch to understand why he would question the motives of the suspect’s mother in speaking about her son’s mental state. Or why he’d scoff at the notion that she “says she’s hurting just as much. My father will never get his morning walk again. He’ll never see the sun again. He won’t get his three meals a day, which her son still has.”
Then, there’s the political: In the middle of a heated political argument over whether hate crimes from the left are as much a threat as those from the right, conservatives point to this series of unprovoked killings and say see, we knew it.
Finally, there’s the pressure from advocates for those who struggle with mental illness. They’re already up against the ancient stereotype of how dangerous those with a mental illness supposedly are. So are they eager to acknowledge the more nuanced truth that while the vast, vast majority of those with a mental illness are no danger to anyone, occasionally, they are? No.
Yet that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, racial animus is a symptom — and an obsession that shows up only after the onset of schizophrenia. The suspect’s mother told The Star that her son refused to get treatment for what she has long seen as his paranoid schizophrenia. He never saw a doctor, but at 16 started showing the same symptoms as his brother, who had been diagnosed with that difficult disease, she said, and added that maybe in jail he’d finally get help: “I don’t want those demons in him anymore because a person who has never dealt with paranoid schizophrenia — you don’t know what it’s like. It’s hell. Their life is hell.”
If her account is a defense, it’s a poor one, because “not guilty by reason of insanity” is rarely argued and almost never successful. Especially since John Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan, was acquitted on that basis and sent to a mental hospital for the next 35 years. Outraged that Hinckley had “gotten away” with his crime, Congress and half of the states passed laws limiting use of the defense. The legal definition of insanity requires such a complete break from reality that the accused no longer knows what he’s doing is wrong — a standard that goes back to the mid-1800s, which is about where our level of understanding is stuck.
Earlier this year, another hate-spewing 22-year-old, Dylann Roof, was found guilty of killing nine African-Americans who had welcomed him to their Bible study group in Charleston, South Carolina. The jury was barred from hearing evidence that lawyers for Roof, whose racist rants were well documented, said would have shown he, too, suffers from schizophrenia. And Roof was so determined not to be seen as mentally ill that he represented himself during the punishment phase of his trial. He would literally rather die, and was sentenced to death.