I’m still reeling with the shock of yet another mass murder in the U.S. As we learn more about what happened in Orlando, like many of you I want to do something to prevent the next tragedy. Many people will offer ideas and solutions and I’d like to share my own. I call this a modest proposal since this is a complex problem and there are no simple solutions. No matter what is done, it isn’t going to stop senseless killing. On the other hand, I think there is much we can do to make our country less violent. But if we’re going to become a more peaceful, less violent, country, we need to try approaches that may seem radical to some.
We’ve all seen the headlines and know the basic facts. As reported by the Los Angeles Times: An act of terror and an act of hate: The aftermath of America’s worst mass shooting. “The United States suffered the worst mass shooting in its modern history when 50 people were killed and 53 injured in Orlando, Fla., after a gunman stormed into a packed gay nightclub. The gunman was killed by a SWAT team after taking hostages at Pulse, a popular gay club. He was preliminarily identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen.”
The Times offers this summary of the most deadly shootings in the U.S. in recent years:
If we’re going to prevent the next attack we need to look more deeply at some hard truths. First, mass murder is an almost exclusively male phenomenon (male:female ratio ∼24:1). We have to look more closely at what we can do to better understand male violence so we can reduce the risk of a man (usually a man under the age of 30) reaching a point where he wants to kill others.
There is a new journal, Violence & Gender, that can offer us articles and insights based on the latest scientific studies by experts in the field. The Editor-in-Chief is Mary Ellen O’Toole, Ph.D., a social scientist, former FBI-agent and profiler. “I spent my career studying the criminal violent mind,” says Dr. O’Toole, “and now gratuitous violence is at an all-time high. This violence is well-planned, lethal, and extremely callous. The offenders are nearly always male. Does gender really make a difference in the commission of violent crime? It’s time for a journal to take on this question.”
In the March, 2015, issue of Violence & Gender, Michael H. Stone, M.D., wrote a fine article, “Mass Murder, Mental Health, and Men.” Dr. Stone reports that “Much of the heightened frequency and greater death toll stems from the easier availability of semiautomatic weapons since the 1970s.” He goes on to say, “Most mass murders are planned well in advance of the outburst, usually as acts of revenge or retribution for perceived slights and wrongs. Overwhelming hopelessness is often present: this may help explain how nearly half the persons committing mass murder either commit suicide or are killed by the police in the immediate aftermath of the event.”
If we’re going to prevent the next mass murder we have to address male hopelessness. We know that more and more young males feel depressed and see little hope for a more positive future. We have to reach out to these men before their hopeless turns to rage and violence.
One organization that reaches out to men and engages them in a positive ways is The Mankind Project (MKP). The ManKind Project has centers around the world and challenges each man to find and develop his own life’s mission and to live that mission fully with the support of a powerful network of other men.
Julien Devereux is MKP USA Chairman. “I learned of the tragedy in Orlando on my return journey back to Texas,” says Devereaux. “We stand with our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, Orlando, and all people of good will, in grief and horror. As an organization, we are committed to nonviolence and cultural evolution. We work to heal men’s souls: to rewrite the toxic personal and cultural programming that drives men who perpetrate horrific acts of violence. We believe that compassion, wholeness, nurturing strength, and creative purpose are every man’s birthright. We believe that transforming masculinity is critical to ending violence in its myriad manifestations, and we take responsibility for being part of the change we want to see.”
Another organization that is dedicated to changing the culture of manhood and violence is The Good Men Project. I’ve been writing articles for GMP since they began six years ago. They are truly a community of men and women dedicated to understanding what it means to be a good man in today’s world and how to bring more peace in all our lives.
Chris Crass also writes for GMP. He is a longtime organizer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. He has written and spoken widely about anti-racist organizing, Black Lives Matter movement, spiritual leadership for social change, and developing healthy culture for progressive activism. In a recent article, “Remembering Defiance and Love for LGBTQ Equality,” he says:
“I remember the hurt I felt when my male friends pulled their hand out of mine as we walked in public. I remember why they did, as people yelled homophobic slurs and gave us looks of disgust. I remember how much the anger, threats of violence, and slurs, my public, beautiful, and defiant, high school love for my dear Mike generated. I remember the first hundred times I kissed boys and said yes to my heart and my joy. I remember holding hands in public when I was scared but wanted love and liberation to be stronger.”
He concludes, “I will remember Orlando and the lives of so many beautiful people taken from this world by the hatred and violence of homophobia, homophobia fueled and given cover by anti-Trans and anti-queer legislation and all who support such legislation.”
But if we’re going to prevent violence we need to recognize that the origins of violence begin in childhood abuse, neglect, and abandonment. This has been demonstrated repeatedly by studies on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). “ACEs” comes from the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a groundbreaking public health study that discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. The ACE Study has published more than 70 research papers since 1998. Hundreds of additional research papers based on the ACE Study have also been published.
AcesTooHigh is a news site that reports on research about adverse childhood experiences. In a recent article, AcesTooHigh editor, Jane Ellen Stevens, asks us to address important questions about the Orlando killer, based on ACE research findings including the following:
Was life so unsafe in Afghanistan that his parents endured extreme hardship and had to leave? Were they involved in any of the country’s wars? His father appeared in videos where he railed against the Afghan government and Pakistanis; was that anger directed against his son verbally or physically? Was he bullied by classmates or teachers when he was a child for being an immigrant or for his religion?
Did he witness abuse against his mother or some other family member? Was a family member depressed or have some other mental illness? Was a family member imprisoned or killed (either in Afghanistan or the U.S.)? Did he experience sexual abuse, or was he emotionally or physically neglected?
Was he bullied by classmates or teachers when he was a child for being an immigrant or for his religion? Did he witness abuse against his mother or some other family member? Was a family member depressed or have some other mental illness? Was a family member imprisoned or killed (either in Afghanistan or the U.S.)? Did he experience sexual abuse, or was he emotionally or physically neglected? Were his reported many visits to Pulse, the nightclub where he killed or wounded nearly a third of the patrons, because he was a homosexual, and, if so, did his resulting inner conflict with his family and religion lead to his unmanageable rage?
Why these questions? It certainly is not to excuse the horrific behavior. As Ms. Stevens concludes, “The point of asking these questions is not to say ‘Oh, poor Omar, what a hard life he had.’ The point of asking these questions is this: If Omar Mateen did indeed experience enough childhood adversity that led to such overwhelming hate and anger, what were all the turning points in his childhood where family, friends, neighbors, clergy, teachers, or others in his community could have changed his life course so that he would not have ended up in that Orlando night club early Sunday morning? And what can we learn from this to change our approach to other troubled families?”
Based on more than forty years treating violent men, I have found these are the questions that underlie violence and the kinds of problems that need to be addressed if we are going to prevent the next Orlando massacre.
So, here’s my proposal. It’s really quite simple:
- Learn about gender and violence. Take a look at the journal Violence and Gender.
- Join organizations that are committed to gender-based understandings of what it means to be a good man in today’s world. Take a look at The Good Men Project.
- Engage organizations that help men find their life purpose and support them in finding a mission of service. Take a look at The Mankind Project.
- Be willing to look deeper and understand the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on adult violence and other health issues. Take a look at ACEsTooHigh.
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Jed Diamond is a longtime member of the Men’s Center Los Angeles. He has a Masters degree is social work and PhD in International Health. Jed founded MenAlive to be a health program that helps men live long and well. Though focused on men’s health, MenAlive is also for women who care about the health of the men in their lives. His passion in life is to support men, and the women who love them, in eliminating the stresses that undermine their health and wreck relationships. His latest book is titled "The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come." It combines the wisdom accumulated over 40 years helping more than 20,000 men, women, and children. He and his wife, Carlin, live on Shimmins Ridge above Bloody Run Creek in Northern California. They are proud parents of five grown children and twelve grandchildren. Click here to contact Jed directly or visit his website: www.MenAlive.com