Friday, October 23, 2009

Scott Gregory Hawkins - Who Will Speak Out?

Yesterday, I commented on an article in the Sacramento Bee concerning Scott Gregory Hawkins, a transfer junior at Sacramento State, who was beaten to death with a baseball bat in his dorm room. Scott was a history buff who had hoped to become a history teacher or history professor. He was a religious individual who had volunteered in a number of activities to help others, including working with inner city kids, working on an Indian reservation on the Idaho-Nevada border, and working in a mission school in Chile.

Scott also had Aspergers, believed to exist along the same spectrum as autism. Among other things, individuals with Aspergers evidence severe difficulties in social interaction. According to one of his dorm-mates, Scott "wasn't the best socially" and "didn't have many friends." Nevertheless, "he seemed pretty normal to me. He was just shy. A very smart kid, though."

His father mentioned that his Aspergers "sometimes made him a target for bullies."

Within an hour of posting my blog piece, I came across a news story that the US Senate that very same day had passed the "Matthew Shepard" Act that would help protect gays and lesbians from hate crimes. Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old student attending the University of Wyoming. Eleven years ago, he was lured into a car, and subsequently robbed, beaten, and tortured, then left to die tied to a fence in the middle of nowhere.

According to witnesses, Matthew was targeted because he was gay.

Matthew's murder raised an immediate public outcry, not just from the gay community, but from all of us sickened by any display of hate and intolerance. The murder and subsequent trial was front page news, and received wall-to-wall coverage on all the news channels. The gay community made sure that Matthew would never be forgotten. Meanwhile, politicians and activists pressed for the passage of a hate crimes bill, which was finally passed yesterday, and which is awaiting the President's signature to become law.

Suddenly, it occurred to me. What about Scott? The only news coverage was local. There was no public outcry. No mental health advocates spoke out. No politicians or activists rushed in to propose a hate crimes bill to protect those with mental illness.

On the rare occasions when someone with a mental illness happens to commit a violent crime, we hear all about it. Front page news, lead story, shrill voices urging that innocent people need to be protected from us. But the hard cold truth is society preys on us. We are the ones on the receiving end of outrageous and violent acts. But no one cares about us. We are different, mental, crazy.

Scott had a mental illness that drew attention to his social awkwardness. His Aspergers set him up for ridicule and abuse and bullying. But instead of retreating into a shell, Scott gave to the community, he dared attend college to realize his dreams. Two days ago, in his own room, someone outrageously and irrevocably shattered those dreams.

Who will keep Scott's memory alive? Who will speak out on behalf of those of us with mental illness?

All I hear is silence. Silence. Dead silence. Silence kills ...


Anonymous said...

I feel that this is totally true. Few people will stick up & speak out in defense of the poor, shy kid who is a target of bullies. I knew Scott and I saw him as sweet, helpful & shy. This is a profound tragedy for the entire family and all who knew and loved them. It's also a tragedy because Scott never had the chance to fully live his dreams. Where is the outrage?

John McManamy said...

My deepest condolences, Anonymous. I would very much like to keep Scott's memory alive, so please let me know what I can do to help.

Elizabeth said...

So we're the sick ones, are we?

Hell, why not create a diagnosis or two for those "regular" guys who think it's cool to make fun of people who they don't think are regular enough, and then, hell, have a few too many, and then, um, kill people.

Sensitivity seems to be the prevailing commonality of the mentally ill. On the other hand, we have insensitivity, a little something that could be described by the term sociopathy in its extremes, a pox that the mental health folks have thusfar largely avoided. It only comes up after a murder or two or three. As a teacher, I come across young people who seem totally indiferent to the suffering of others. Largely, they're considered well adjusted. Not a problem.

They scare me.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Elizabeth. Totally agree. The schools and society tolerate and even seem to approve of bullying. Who are the sick ones?

Adelaide Dupont said...

Sensivity is a universal human trait, shared among the mentally healthy and the mentally ill.

I don't know that any individual is particularly sick if he or she is sensitive (or for that matter insensitive). Sensitivity seems like a refined version of pleasure and pain, or even the balance between the two. Also it is a natural human variation.

There should be a hate crimes act (like the one for Matthew Shepherd and all people who are homosexual), or the existing laws should/could be strengthened.

It would also be good if there was a Scott Hawkins foundation/scholarship so that people can carry on and be inspired by him.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Adelaide. Yes, totally. I hope some tangible action comes out of this, and I hope we can all rally to give Scott's family the support they need.

JeremiahInIowa said...

Thank you, John, for noticing and caring. I am a person with Aspergers, and I would have passed this story by. I've been puzzled by that, and appreciate the friend whose reaction allowed me to get in touch with my own anger. Although much of my life's effort now is devoted to the long struggle of those with Aspergers for respect, dignity, and a place in the community, I don't know how I would survive the ordinariness of non-empathic responses to people with Aspergers without that numbness.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Jeremiah. I hear you. Often, to survive the brutality of the world out there, I have to wrap myself in that very same blanket of numbness. I thank you whole-heartedly for doing what you do to make the world a better place for all of us. By speaking out on behalf of people who live with Aspergers, you help all of us. And I certainly look forward to all of us finding common cause with you. Trust me, you will find some staunch allies here.

Lucy Talikwa said...

Just raw pain here. My brother, Brett, was gay, brilliant and gentle -- and like Scott was beaten to death in DC, 1990. He was 37. Although the term “hate crime” was not in use then, the police made it clear to us that indeed, it was just that: prejudice for his sexual “deviance.” Any of us who don’t fit the norm, who slide off the top of the bell curve (and God forbid fall under it, beneath The Bell Jar) are fair game to those with the baseball bats. I’ll take mentally ill over immoral any day. Man’s inhumanity to man.

Anonymous said...

This is nightmarish for me. I've fought off fears and worries that something like this could happen to my son. He was diagnosed thirteen years ago at the age of four with "mild" autism. I still believe it must have been some cosmic joke that the powers that be gave an autistic child requiring more than typical structure and consistency to a bipolar adhd parent like me. Maybe it was thought we could at least empathize with each others quirks. I couldn't even read through your whole post the first time Thursday night. My heart broke and my mind reeled. It's still reeling. I don't know what I feel stronger...anger, outrage, grief or sadness. This should not be, this should never be. Thoughts of the hell that Scott must have endured and experienced in his last moments overwhelmed me along with sympathy I feel for his parents and the hell they will be experiencing in the years to come. I can only imagine. My thoughts are with them and my sincerest condolences for their loss.

Louise Woo, CABF L.A. Area Support Group Coordinator said...

John, I hate to step in and throw water on everyone's outrage, but there is no evidence so far that Scott was killed because he had Asperger's and was socially awkward.

On the contrary, there is growing evidence that his roommate, the accused killer, was mentally ill and went over the edge after experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs.

If you read the latest story, it appears that Scott came back to his room in the middle of the afternoon to find his roommate, Quran, in the midst of a violent, psychotic episode. It's unclear what happened next, but since these two young men seemed to be friends it seems logical to assume that Scott tried to calm Quran... with tragic consequences.

Read the story yourself and then try to figure out where the outrage should be:

My heart breaks for the family of any person who is murdered, but as the mother of a son with bipolar disorder I worry greatly about his normal adolescent curiosity about illegal drugs. I know that the dangerous combination of youth + recreational drugs + mental illness could easily make me the parent of the murderer as well the murdered.

So my heart breaks for Quaran's parents too. He was their foster child, which automatically raises red flags about his birth family's genetics if his parents lost custody of him.

So many children in foster care are the offspring of POOR mentally-ill parents. In a middle or upper-middle class family, grandparents or siblings will usually take in the children of a mentally-ill parent. They have the economic means to do so. But if you are poor and have no health care, you will lose your children to the foster care system.

Who knows what untreated condition Quaran has? So often, adolescents (he is 20) are undiagnosed until they either attempt suicide, homicide or some other violent act. People will dismiss lesser acts as "teenage acting-out." Unfortunately, illness is diagnosed AFTER permanent damage has been done.

So, please look deeper into this story.

As the facts unfold, I suspect we will find that Quaran's the product of a society that denies health care to the poor, that does not educate the public about modern treatments for mental illness, that has a foster care system so overburdened that children are dumped into any available family without giving foster parents critical information needed to help a child.

This is not like the Matthew Shepard case where a group of thugs dragged a defenseless victim out of a bar to kill him. This is the case of two young men who seemed to be friends, where one friend tried to help another without realizing how dangerous that choice would be.

My outrage is that I live in the one of the richest countries in the world, but we think that healthcare is a privilege for the rich and that we all pay the price for quietly acquiescing to it.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Louise. Trust me, I'll see how this plays out. But it is my duty to draw people's attention to the silence that followed this tragedy.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Lucy. I can't begin to express my concern for what you experienced and what you have had to live with every day of your life since then. Please know you are among friends here, and please feel free to post as much as you wish.

Anonymous said...

Bullies and other alpha males are good at defining group norms and determining what is appropriate behavior for the group, subjects near and dear to psychology.

Also, a great many people who have a diagnosis of Asperger's would take issue with being called mentally ill. There's a growing community calling for the acceptance of neurodiversity.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. Spot on about bullies and alpha males. Extremely interesting about neurodiversity. Until you brought it up, I have to confess I never heard of it.

To readers: From Wikipedia:

"Neurodiversity is an idea which asserts that atypical (neurodivergent) neurological development is a normal human difference that is to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. The concept of neurodiversity is embraced by some autistic individuals and people with related conditions. Some groups apply the concept of neurodiversity to conditions potentially unrelated (or non-concomitant) to autism such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, developmental speech disorders, Parkinson's disease, dyslexia, and dyspraxia."

(My note, Aspergers is regarded as related to autism.)

Please feel free, everyone, to weigh in on this. I've got my research cut out for me. In the meantime, society has a way of turning those they consider different into outsiders. I like to think my outsider status helps me identify with other outsiders, but I know I have blind spots that I need working on. But we learn and grow wiser.

Thanks again, Anonymous, for bringing this to my attention.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Good on you, John, for learning about neurodiversity, and Anonymous for raising it up in the first place.

I think we all have an idea of neurodiversity, but it isn't always conscious. Wouldn't it be great instead of thinking: 'This person is an outsider' 'This person is neurodiverse'.

Thank you, Louise, for mentioning that the killer/roommate could have been mentally ill. Yes, it is sad that people don't get diagnosed until they do something harmful to others. And as for the health care system ...

And, yes, bipolar is definitely part of neurodiversity, as I have learnt over the past 3 years.

Anonymous said...

It is a horrible tragedy for both families. My condolences to both families. We all have a long way to go to be more diverse in every situation. My son is undergoing evaluation currently at the age of 9. I have never favored labeling which often occurs when a diagnosis is finally reached. The more I learn the more I realize how much more there is to learn. As much as we are all the same we are all that much different as well. It will be a glorious day when we can all be accepted for both our similarities as well as our beautiful differences. No one should have to suffer at the hands of another.

Anonymous said...

I have bipolar disorder and a 32 yr old son with Aspergers syndrome. He has super intelligence but school was hell for him - all twelve years. I was there as a teacher's aide and the staff helped as much as they could.In college he found friends with a church group, and he still attends church, which is now like family to him. I don't worry as much as I used to. He seems to have developed a sense of self protection. But as he tells me, "Mom, I can't lie" - I know he struggles with people who are out to hurt him. Why did he have to have so much to deal with - a bipolar mom and Aspergers?
We must work together as a community to fight the stigma.

Anonymous said...

People with Aspergers are not mentally ill. Thank you.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. I hear you, but we also need to clarify:

Aspergers was clearly identified in the 1940s and was added to the DSM-IV in 1994. Adding a new diagnosis to the diagnostic bible is always going to be controversial, but we do have a strong body of expert opinion that indicates a set of symptoms that interferes with an individual's function (such as in work and relationships).

On one hand, we all need to respect neurodiversity and accept individuals who seem different from ourselves. On the other, most of us (myself included) are grateful for any assistance in doing what we can to reach social acceptance from our end.

My bipolar was a major contributor to my being an outsider virtually my entire life. Having identified the problem was the first step in finding the solution.

Anonymous said...

I have a brother with Bipolar/schizophrenia disorder, and I would absolutely just die if someone beat him to death in his dorm. He is a college student also but lives in his own apartment, and is very successful in school. Yet he is also very antisocial, and doesnt like to be around many people at a time, understandably. He is the most loving and kind man I know. He has his moments but I cant imagine the horror he lives in each day suffering with the effects of his illness. God bless all of you out there suffering with any mental illness. It takes much more effort to show up and do the things most people might consider "normal" than it does for us "normal" people. I commend all of you on making the best effort you can each and every minute of every day. I hope something can be done to protect those who commit hate crimes against people that suffer with mental illnesses.
In my thoughts and prayers always.
With love to my brother Simon, your sis Melissa LOVES you!!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

As the mother of a 6 year old son on the spectrum, this is a fear I have spent many a night contmeplating. My son is high functioning and we plan to one day send him to college. It's time we all stand up and make others take notice. Our kids need help. With 1 in 150 kids born on the spectrum something needs to be done ... and it needs to be done now! Autism does speak ... and it's time for everyone to listen!!!

John McManamy said...

Hi. I didn't respond to the 3 post-November comments. But trust, me. I hear you. I echo the last comment here: Autism does speak ... and it's time for everyone to listen.

mathteacherguy said...

I am Scott's father. I thank everyone for their concern. I don't think that my son was targeted because of Asperger's. I think that he was an easy target because he was kind and gentle and genuinely wanted to help other people. He was not raised to fight. One person above who said that Scott's last actions were probably to try to calm his attacker and find out why he was so angry ... she was right on. That was who Scott was. Scott wasn't mentally ill. Asperger's is not a disease. It is a general description of a person's nature. Asperger's people are often gifted in some way (such as extremely good memory or the ability to focus all their thoughts on a narrow subject) but tend to be clumsy in social situations and have difficulty reading other people's body language and facial cues. For 15 years, we did not know why Scott was this way. Finally giving it a name -- Asperger's -- did not "cure" anything but it did help all of us to understand that this was not a defect, not a disease, not his fault, but just a part of the way he was. I could say so much more but I will save it for another day.
-Gerald Hawkins, Santa Clara, California

John McManamy said...

Hi, Gerald. I just want to let you know that I and those of us who posted here very much identified with Scott for who he was, not because of a "name." I don't know if your read the blog piece that preceded this one, but here's a brief extract:

"Like Scott, I too was a history buff. Back in junior high, when others were talking about stupid junior high things, I would much rather talk about how Hannibal used his Numidian light cavalry to great effect at the battle of Cannae."

"Only I had no one to talk to."

"I was shy, socially awkward, nerdy with glasses, skinny, and the smallest kid in my class. Whatever made Lee order Pickett to lead a suicide charge up Cemetary Ridge into the teeth of Union artillery at Gettysburgh? I used to wonder."

"Getting on the school bus everyday was kinda like that for me. I never stood a chance."

I also wrote what a wonderful gift history confers upon those of us lucky to grow up fascinated by it. I can't explain it, but when I read the terrible news it affected me deeply. It had nothing to do with how your son may have been labeled.

The label part came into it only in my second piece - this one - only because of the way society shuns people because of labels. It was a social wrong, and speaking as a history buff, my life has been inspired by great men and women who have spoken out against social wrongs.

But the important thing is I want to do all I can to honor the memory of your son. Please let me know what I can do. And also, please feel free to share your son's story with us here.

You are in a very supportive community here. Please, we want to hear more from you.

connie said...

This is quite a while after Scott's murder. I am horrified to hear of this. If I wasn't bipolar and on, I never would hae heard about this awful crime. I have been in love with a man (over 50) who has Asperger's (when he admits it). I have been reading and listening and watching all the books novel, movies news reports I can find. it is very tough. I never did hear a word about Scott. Te stigma of all our illnesses don't even allow the appropriate response to a terrible death, totally undeserved. I extend my sympathies to his family. I talk about Aspergers whenever I have the chance for people need to know and therefor understand even a little.

Anonymous said...

I am very touched by this post. I wish more people in my country were as actively concerned as you are. There are many here who are victims of hate, ridicule and violence simply because they are different.

Scott will be remembered. Because someone like you cared. And this will pass on.

Siobhan said...

I am a lecturer in Psychology in the UK and a neuropsychologist. I cover Autism/Aspergers in my courses.

Scott's story wasn't covered in the media here at all.

I will talk about him in a class every academic year for the rest of my career.


Anonymous said...

As of April 12, 2012 Quran Mahammed Jones, the attacker of Scott Hawkins was found "insane". Instead of spending 15 years to life in prision he will waste away in Napa State Hospital. I don't understand why it took so long for a verdict, but I know that I will never understand why Scott was killed. Makes you think what if everyone plead insanity??