By now, I’m sure you all have heard of, and hopefully not forgotten, the tragic story of Elijah Al-Amin, the young Arizona boy killed on Independence Day because of his decision to play a certain genre of music. A man slit the throat of the 17-year-old because of the “threatening” music. The accused threat? Rap music.
Since Elijah’s passing, I’ve been trying to process how someone could take a life so mindlessly. I asked myself the same question I always do when another young black kid is killed for no reason at all. The same “how could this happen?” with tears in my eyes as though I knew the life lost. But this time the social media posts (because what headlines would cover it?) had me confused. I read caption after caption, trying to make sense of it, but nothing made sense. Finally, news outlets were beginning to spread the word, and I began my research. Shockingly enough (note the sarcasm), there’s so much beneath the surface of this unfortunate incident. Let’s unpack.
I want to start with the familiarity of this case. It’s reminiscent of a story involving actor Liam Neeson. But what does Liam Neeson have to do with this case? Well, back in February, Liam Neeson stated in an interview that, following the rape of a loved one, he went out looking for a black man to kill, which is eerily similar to what Elijah’s killer did. Michael Adams claims that in the past, he had been attacked by kids listening to rap music, so when he heard the same type of music, he was likely looking to attack whoever was playing it, resulting in the untimely death of the high school student. Adams says he knew Elijah wasn’t a threat, but still felt that the music was, which is a common belief that can both stem from and breed racism, and in this case, it did.
Seeing as we couldn’t expect any more from authorities, it’s no shocker to find that they are, in fact, running with the mental illness card which, while it may be applicable here, we all know its nothing more than police’s laziness about granting justice to families. More often than not, the mental illness card is used to cover up and dismiss tragedies such as hate crimes and terrorism, resulting in lighter punishments for the perpetrator, further lacking in justice and encouraging the idea that lives (and more specifically, lives of color) are disposable. There are several too many examples of this: America deals with shooting after shooting, homicide after homicide, hate crime after hate crime, and each suspect (often white) gets a slap-on-the-wrist punishment due to mental health. Not only is it crying wolf, which minimizes the realities of others, but it’s also weaponizing as hell.
How do you “weaponize” mental health, and what does it have to do with race?
When authorities use mental health not to justify the crime itself, but to back the criminal, it gives the impression that we, those suffering from mental illness, are dangerous. From Dylan Roof to Nikolas Cruz to Michael Adams — and the list could go on for pages, you have people taking lives and our people in power want to victimize and humanize them, all the while knowing that people with actual mental illness are more likely to be a harm to themselves than others. In a world where mental health was already a taboo topic among most, authorities dismissing death and injustice by throwing around something so serious as mental health just makes those it that much harder for those of us living with the struggle.
The Christchurch, New Zealand shooter spread a nearly 80-page manifesto that speaks of his support for trump and desire to kill off Muslims before livestreaming the act and people still blamed mental illness. Cruz posted about violence on his social media and everyone ignored that even after he shot the school he was expelled from. Sandy Hook was an elementary school. But a 17-year-old black boy can’t buy skittles without being a suspect. But a 17-year-old black boy can’t play music without being a threat. But a grown man can’t sell cigarettes without being choked to death, pleading “I can’t breathe.” So imagine if one of us killed someone, be it by accident, self-defense, or for the same reason the many white murderers that never get jail time do it. Imagine if a Muslim did it. Or an Arab. Or a Latinx. Or an Asian. And add mental health issues to this equation. Then, can you really tell me it’s not about race?
It’s becoming way too normal. Excusing murderers, racially motivated attacks, calculated shootings, and the injustice that comes with it all. This is our past, our present, and if things keep going this way, it will be our future as well. We have to talk about it.
(Featured Image: CanadaArt)