Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Most Notorius Killers Why Are the Majority of Assailants in These Random, Mass Murders White Males?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Most Notorius Killers Why Are the Majority of Assailants in These Random, Mass Murders White Males?

Article excerpt

Of all the information turned up about Adam Lanza in the days since he killed 27 people and himself in Newtown, Conn., two obvious facts have barely been mentioned: He was a man, and a white man at that.

No one really knows what prompted Lanza's actions, so theories and commentaries about the gender and racial dynamics of his crimes are debatable at best.

But the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings in America have been committed by men -- most of whom were white.

The racial and gender dynamics of such crimes are rarely discussed or probed in the aftermath of these crimes. More attention is paid when the perpetrator doesn't fit the prevailing pattern.

Many media commentators, including some in the Korean-American community, speculated on the role that Seung Hui Cho's Korean background played in the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. Also, many wondered if alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan's Muslim background played a role in that crime.

White males have no monopoly on mass killings; relative to population, African-Americans are overrepresented among the perpetrators of crimes involving the death of four or more people, according to criminologist James Alan Fox. These crimes include robberies gone awry, gang-related slayings and family disputes. But white men carried out or were accused of many of the most notorious episodes of random public killings in recent decades, from Oklahoma City to Columbine, Colo., to Tucson, Ariz., to Aurora, Colo., to Newtown.

Of 62 mass shootings in public places during the past 30 years, 44 were done by white males, according to a tally by Mother Jones magazine. Only one assailant was a woman.

These factors rarely draw much comment or exploration in media accounts in the wake of these crimes. More often, the discussion focuses on mental health, family relations, gun control or such alleged cultural influences as violent video games, TV programs or movies.

"If a woman were the shooter, you can bet there would be all sorts of commentary about shifting cultural notions of femininity and how they might have contributed to her act," wrote Jackson Katz, a filmmaker and writer, in the Huffington Post. "... The key difference is that because men represent the dominant gender, their gender is rendered invisible in the discourse about violence."

In fact, women infrequently commit homicides and only then under specific circumstances. Women tend to kill people they know -- boyfriends, spouses, their children; "stranger" killings by women are almost unheard of, says Randolph Roth, a history and sociology professor at Ohio State University. "When women kill, it's personal," he says. "They kill because they hate you."

Men, on the other hand, kill for a variety of reasons and sometimes for no apparent reason. …

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