Mental health or political involvement: We should not have to choose

Emily Girard

On Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, Louisville mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg was shot at in his campaign office. Greenberg was not physically injured. 

Quintez Brown, a 21-year-old activist, former Louisville Courier Journal intern and former UK student, was charged with the shooting. He would later plead not guilty to the charges of attempted murder and wanton endangerment. 

There is no way to fully understand what motivated Brown to shoot at Greenberg, but the widespread opinion is that Brown’s mental health was severely compromised at the time of the attack. His attorney said he was “severely mentally ill and needs treatment, not prison.”

The Louisville Community Bail Fund agreed, posting Brown’s $100,000 bail the day after it was set. Brown is now on house arrest, and the group made a statement that it is currently connecting Brown with mental health services. Though they also condemned the shooting, Chanelle Helm, an organizer at Black Lives Matter Louisville with connections to the bail fund, said that “jails and prisons do not rehabilitate people.”

No information has been released on if Brown had any previous diagnoses or if his mental state had only recently taken a turn for the worse. However, when reading this case, I found myself thinking about the recent downturn in mental health many people have experienced over the past two years, especially members of marginalized groups. Current events are taking a toll on the members of these groups in a way that many others do not understand.

I cannot put myself in Brown’s shoes, nor tell you what it feels like to be a person of color living in a community like Louisville and seeing it become one of the forefronts of the Black Lives Matter movement after the March 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor. However, as a queer, neurodivergent, gender non-conforming person, I can offer some perspective on what it is like to live in a world that was not built for you and at times is actively trying to erase you.

The current political environment is unstable, to say the least. Spend enough time on the Internet, and you’ll see people’s human rights getting violated left and right — and people arguing over whether or not these violations are justified. One way or another, being exposed to these debates day in and day out will make anyone’s opinions on humanity and its future very unstable. According to a study published in PLOS ONE by Kevin Smith, Matthew Hibbing and John Hibbing, 38% of surveyed Americans said that politics has caused them to be stressed. Of those polled, 20% have seen friendships damaged due to politics, and nearly 17% said their lives would be better if they didn’t focus so much on politics.

This would make anyone want to stay out of politics for the sake of their mental health. However, for many, that is easier said than done.

Take me, for instance. How can I stay out of politics when it took the Supreme Court to allow me to marry the people I want? I have a uterus, too; if I and others like me do not stay politically conscious, we may find that we have indirectly allowed laws to be enacted in our state that, for example, forbade us from getting an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy

The situation is even more dire for people of color, who have to deal with all of this in addition to decades of discrimination and police brutality and the legacy of white supremacy and slave labor that is ingrained in the history of this country’s founding. Faced with this reality, one can see that some people cannot afford to not be involved in politics, especially when their civil rights or bodily autonomy can be erased with the passage of a single law. 

Brown was an activist; I cannot help but wonder how heard and noticed he felt when he made the decision to attack Greenberg. Did this come from a personal desire for violence, or was Brown angry at a system that he constantly fought in order to just have his voice heard and his needs considered? Perhaps he thought that the only way to be noticed in a society that systematically ignores him was to take drastic measures. 

Again, I am not condoning Brown’s actions. I am saying, however, that the connections between politics and mental health, especially for members of marginalized groups, needs to be investigated further and acted upon so that incidents like this do not happen again. 

A grand jury will consider Brown’s case, and his next court date is scheduled for March 21. Hopefully, by then, more people will realize how much politics takes out of people and try to ease their way to recognition and satisfaction with society. That way, people will not feel like they need to commit acts of violence to be heard.