Why Does a Recovery Coach Kill?

How to reconstruct a violent/self-destructive life

Posted Aug 15, 2020

News item: There has been an upsurge in violence during the pandemic. (“Record wave of deadly shootings hits US cities”)

Why?: The standard answers are depression, anxiety, isolation. 

But: The shootings and murders are centered in urban Black communities in places like New York, Chicago, and Kansas City.

Why? The standard answers are (a) gun availability (but can’t people in suburbs get guns?); (b) repercussions of violence against Black Americans by police.

This problem raises all the fundamental questions and fissures in American society, ones that the United States is incapable of resolving. So I can hardly do so on my own.

But it also raises clinical questions about individuals. What makes individuals shoot to kill other people? I’ll take a shot at that one.

A case study:

Published Aug. 11, 2020

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It started with an afternoon stop at a gas station. Two customers began exchanging angry stares near the pumps outside — and no one can explain exactly why.

That led to an argument, and it escalated quickly as one of them pulled a gun and they struggled over it, according to the police.

“There’s too many shootings. Please don’t do this,” the wife of one of the men pleaded, stepping between them.

But by the time the fight was over at the station on Kansas City’s East Side late last month, the all-too-familiar crackle of gunfire pierced the humid air, leaving another person dead in what has been an exceedingly bloody summer.

Why did this happen? Most people reading this (a) don’t carry a gun, (b) don’t get in fights at gas stations, ergo, most don’t kill people in refueling disputes. 

But: Even if they own a gun and get angry a lot, they almost never engage in fatal fights. (Example: Donald Trump has a New York City concealed gun permit.)

Why this case? The shooter in this K.C. case was in a helping, role modeling position in society:

The man now charged with murder in the case is a meatpacking worker, Isaac Knighten, 40, who devotes much of his time to mentoring Black men and boys, including teaching conflict resolution through Alpha Male Nation, a mentoring organization his brother started. His wife said he had turned his life around after serving time on drug charges from more than a decade ago.

In other words, he was a recovery coach.

Why did he kill someone? It' possible that Mr. Knighten (a) hadn’t sufficiently learned and practiced alternative (i.e., not shooting people) conflict resolution techniques; (b) hadn’t sufficiently surfaced nonviolent confrontation values.

Standard explanations: Mr. Knighten (a) was traumatized by his previous life experience, (b) was genetically programmed to be a killer.

We have trended away from (b) — genetic explanations — in cases with racial overtones. So (a), the irreversible effects of trauma, has become our go-to clinical explanation.

But: Despite his boasts, his gun permit, and his niece’s description of his own childhood trauma, we still don’t expect Donald Trump to shoot anyone. Trauma doesn’t = shooting.

If we accept PTSD as an explanation for killing, then we are forced back on the career predator explanation (that Joe Biden has been saddled with), which translates into “lock them up and throw away the key.”

My explanation/resolution: I view addiction (and violence) as responses people haven’t replaced for dealing with problems, stress and conflict.

In my Life Process Program, life coaches help clients express constructive (a) values clients have (or need to acquire), (b) conflict-, problem-, stress-resolution techniques/skills.

Coaches are selected and trained on the basis of coaching/helping skills, not on the severity (or lack of it) of their prior trauma — that’s not relevant to their coaching task.

Simple minded? Obvious? Logical? Difficult to pull off for larger populations?

But the correct answer?