While the identities of those behind today’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California remain unknown as of this writing, it still prompts the question of why white terrorists who carry out mass shootings are often more humanized in the media while black youth shot dead by police are vilified by those same publications.
A survey of headlines and news reports over the last few years reveal stories that are unsympathetic to black teenagers who have been killed, while the actions of white gunmen are met with feigned shock and disbelief. But what’s most striking is the level of detail given to the inner workings of the “lone wolf” killers, while the lives of black teens are often minimized or even demonized. Below are five ways the media has made excuses for white terrorists while slandering dead black teens:
1. The media blames white terrorists’ actions on external factors while black youth are the ones who are to blame for their own fate.In this New York Times story, a break up is cited as one reason Michael Wade Page gunned down six people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012. But this Washington Post articles implies that 19-year-old Christian Taylor’s use of synthetic drugs and marijuana justified an officer’s decision to kill him this past August, even though Taylor was unarmed.
2. The media gives a soapbox to sources who express shock and awe over the actions of white terrorists while giving law enforcement the dominant voice in stories about the death of black teens.After opening fire in a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs last week, Robert Dear’s daughter expressed shock at her father’s action in this New York Times article. But CBS News gave the mic to the Chicago law enforcement officer who justified shooting 22-year-old Rekia Boyd because he felt threatened by her in a park in 2012.
3. The media places more importance on the whereabouts and attire of black teens while disproportionately examining the ideology of white terrorists.Several media outlets such as USA Today focused heavily on unarmed Trayvon Martin’s hoodie and the fact he was walking alone in a gated Florida community when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Yet, Time Magazine devoted an entire article to the political beliefs of Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and injured 14 others in a Tuscon Safeway.
4. While mental illness should be examined as a reason for committing acts of terror, the media often glamorizes those with mental illness as being misunderstood masterminds and loners.The media rarely examines the hardships and lives of black teens in the same manner. This New York Times story depicts James Holmes, the gunman who killed 12 and injured 58 in a Colorado movie theater, as intelligent and quick witted. A New York Times story about Michael Brown, who was killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, paints a picture of a troubled youth who was “no angel.”
5. The media is quick to justify the cause of a black teen’s fate but white terrorists are depicted as outliers from troubled childhoods.This ABC News article suggests that 12-year-old Tamir Rice shouldn’t have waved a toy gun before he was killed by police officers, while the L.A. Times depicts Elliot Rodger, who led a deadly rampage through Santa Barbara in 2014 that killed six, as a victim of an unhappy childhood.