Re-thinking the Issue of Mass Shootings in the U.S.

The October shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon left 10 people dead and a nation reeling in shock.. It also prompted President Obama to deliver an emotional message critical of those who block legislative efforts toward gun control measures.

Indeed, this incident raises cause for great concern. Taken alone, this shooting was horrific. When we consider that this mass shooting was not an isolated incident but part of a growing pattern of behavior, it becomes downright disturbing.

The Oregon shooting marked the fourth at a U. S.. college campus since August. And while this may seem like a contemporary occurrence, mass shootings – incidents in which a person kills at least 4 people within a period of 24 hours – are not new. In every decade since 1910, there has been at least one mass shooting in the United States.

Like many extreme and recurring patterns, the occurrence of mass shootings in this country reveals the tendency toward explaining tragedy via biased racial narratives in addition to a continuing failure to identify the systemic causes of such patterns.

As tons of social media memes reveal (in sometimes exaggerated fashion), the American public views white and Black mass killers differently. White killers are generally  believed to suffer from mental illness orwhite serial killer1 brainwashing, while Black offenders are rendered simply as vicious antisocial, and criminal. In addition, innocent and non-threatening Black citizens stand a greater chance of being killed by police than blatantly guilty white mass killers who police typically apprehend alive. Lastly, white mass killers receive significant financial support from other citizens, indicating a national level of empathy and compassion rarely afforded Black folk in similar situations.

Clearly, racial narratives cloud national judgement and create double standards even with respect to social deviants. As Tim Wise noted, white deviants unfairly benefit from a reservoir of national compassion that  law-abiding nonviolent Black citizens simply don’t receive.

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We need a radically different view of mass killings in this country. Of course this begins with a radically different view of Black and other citizens. And since this nation benefits from devaluing hue-mans, don’t hold your breath in anticipation.

Whatever the case, mass shootings at schools, the workplace and cites of entertainment occur so frequently, that we can no longer view them as isolated aberrant incidents.

Is it possible that we fail to correctly solve this problem because we fail to correctly identify it’s root cause? Don’t be fooled.. This is not an issue of gun control or the lack thereof. Nor is this evidence of innate Black criminality or perennial white innocence. The issue underlying these tragic incidents is one of societally-induced mental health disorders and sociopolitical traumas concerning all perpetrators involved.

This nation is sick. The actions it initiated against indigenous Americans, Africans, the poor, women and independent thinkers demonstrate this. Mutilating innocent and nonviolent Black men then posing in pictures (smiling) next to the disfigured bodies; cutting a baby out of a woman’s stomach then stomping on its head; killing people with different interpretations of spirituality; Castrating men then selling their amputated genitalia; Depicting the most vile images of an entire people and putting them on postcards, board games and television. Labeling people as animals then raping them behind closed doors.

We often forget that when you crush and attempt to dehumanize others, you become dehumanized as well. America was sick, vile and deeply conflicted from its very inception. Consequently, this sickness spread to its progeny and to those it subjugated.

This simple idea in my opinion, explains the all-too-frequent occurrence not only of mass killings, but rape and molestation, pedophilia, domestic violence, suicide and homicide in the United States as well. What we are witnessing is the 400-year culmination of America’s own trauma, psychosis and array of personality disorders visited upon us all.

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We have to face the fact that the United States, with its white supremacist framework, greed, materialism, propaganda, imperialism, and indifferent attitude toward and treatment of the indigent, mass-produces bitter, emasculated, insecure, misguided, and deeply pathological citizens who have no problem killing innocent people. Until serious changes occur in this country’s white supremacist values, economic/spiritual ethos, and public policy, such tragedies will continue from all manner of people (For more on this, read Amos Wilson’s brilliant work, Black-on-Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in Service of White Domination ).

Richard Wright warned us of America’s damaging psychological influence on its citizens, in his classic novel Native Son. The protagonist of the story, “Bigger Thomas,” lived in abject poverty, surrounded by affluence he could not access, dreams he could not realize and an unforgiving stain of racism which he could not erase. Filled with bitterness, self-hatred and conflicted identity issues, he eventually became a brutal murderer and rapist. His defense attorney gave a powerful statement identifying American society as complicit in his brutality. Read his statement below and think about the “Biggers” (killers, pedophiles, sexual deviants, violent criminals) in your own life and community. Then ask yourself, “What factors led such people to become community predators, and why do so many exist?” Think long and hard. Then think about the damage white supremacy causes to its target victims and to its unintended victims as well….

 Every time he comes in contact with us, he kills! It is a physiological and psychological reaction, embedded in his being. Every thought he thinks is potential murder. Excluded from, and unassimilated in our society, yet longing to gratify impulses akin to our own but denied the objects and channels evolved through long centuries for their socialized expression, every sunrise and sunset makes him guilty of subversive actions. Every movement of his body is an unconscious protest. Every desire, every dream, no matter how intimate or personal, is a plot or a conspiracy. Every hope is a plan for insurrection. Every glance of the eye is a threat. His very existence is a crime against’ the state!

You might accuse me of passing the buck, but my argument is simple: The United States, with its schools, unjust criminal and sociopolitical and economic systems, imperialist practice and legacy of white supremacy is the supreme rapist, narcissist, serial killer, gangster and thief. It crimes are not simply visited upon arbitrary individuals but humanity itself. Its imperialist initiatives and “interventions” have produced famine, civil wars, and human suffering at genocidal proportions. So-called “Black-on-Black violence, even if calculated for the last five decades doesn’t come close to the damage wrought by the U.S. It is no wonder that this country produces so many sick culprits among its citizenry. And we must address and resolve that rather than continuing to address the isolated acts of individuals. Who are the real criminals? Have they received justice? Who protects us from them?


Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at

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