On the Midtown stabbing, skinny jeans, and our PTSD problem

Even though crime in the central city is, sadly, a regular occurrence, last week’s stabbing of three musicians in Midtown was pretty damn shocking.

The perpetrator allegedly called the victims “faggots” and mocked their metro fashion and skinny jeans before slicing them up with a giant knife. Police have prosecuted the case as an anti-gay hate crime (despite the fact that the victims say it isn’t).

And the resulting anger on social media toward suspect Timothy Brownell has been fierce.

That’s understandable. I get that people are upset, frustrated and, to that end, have not hesitated to spit outrage on Facebook. You’ve read the nasty comments about wanting Brownell to get cut up, or raped in prison, or whatever.

But I’ve got to urge my fellow Midtowners and friends of the victims to slow down, breathe, and not project a rage akin to that which drove Brownell to stab musicians in the first place.

This won’t be a popular opinion piece. People like to “liberal-shame” journalists that put a human face on criminals. But I’m going there.

Let’s take a look at what makes Brownell click. And what made him snap on Sunday, June 21, just before midnight.

Brownell, 25, is a U.S. Army and Afghanistan war veteran. His mother—who I learned on Monday from a source is gay but withheld from sharing in respect of her privacy—has told local media that her son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Brownell acquaintances also have told me that he has anger issues, which manifest as a side-effect of his untreated PTSD.

I’ve read a lot of online comments this week dismissing PTSD, calling it a hoax. But let’s be clear: PTSD is very real.

Time to crunch the numbers: The Department of Veterans Affairs—the agency that for years ignored PTSD after the Vietnam War, and so on—estimates that 20 to 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets suffer from PTSD. Outside groups that advocate on behalf of PTSD victims say these numbers are higher. The Department of Defense has estimated that nearly 3 million members of the U.S. military served in the war on terror since 2001.

This means that there’s somewhere between 600,000 and 1 million veterans of Bush-era wars out in our communities experiencing PTSD symptoms.

What sets off PTSD? Lots of things. There was a story this week bout a man asking neighbors not to shoot off fireworks during the Fourth of July, because it triggers episodes.

So, yeah, it’s no secret that treatment of PTSD for military veterans is woeful. The VA has been dinged repeatedly for long waits and poor follow-up. Hundreds of thousands of victims are never even diagnosed. The majority suffer quietly.

Brownell appears to be one of those who slipped through the cracks.

Hold on. I’m not saying people should pity Brownell. Or that PTSD is an excuse.

What he did to the musicians in Musical Charis and Slaves is inexcusable. One hundred percent. And it’s also scary that he possessed illegal firearms at his Midtown apartment. This guy was dangerous, clearly.

I live less than a block from the scene of the crime. I know some of the victims. Like many, I’ve walked that dark street at midnight from the busy part of MIdtown, southbound to Press Club. It breaks me when I close my eyes and imagine what happened last Sunday.

But what happened also appears to be yet another side effect of our government’s forays into the Middle East, which continue to haunt our communities.

This will only going to get worse in the coming years, as untreated PTSD continues to wreak havoc on veterans’ minds.

And, as one commenter on SN&R’s Facebook page noted, the victim’s too might suffer from PTSD after this assault.

So, next time you want to rant to a friend or post a missive on Facebook about the Midtown stabbing, take pause. Let’s stop the counter-hate. 

Let’s also end the thank-you-veterans lip service at sporting events and on holidays and actually move the needle when it comes to helping veterans.

Media attention on this story has been national. We’ve seen “Skinny jeans stabbing” headlines by Time, New York Magazine, Gawker, People, Esquire and the Los Angeles Times. We’re not going to criticize our colleagues in journalism. But let’s talk a bit about PTSD, too, and why this happened. 

There’s more to this tragedy than tight pants.

SN&R’s Nick Miller was first to report on the Midtown stabbing. Read his blog post here: http://tinyurl.com/StabbingSkinnyJeans.

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