This past week, a white man opened fire on the people inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic and killed three people, including a decorated war veteran, a police officer, and a mother. In addition to those individuals, there were another eight who were shot, including four more police officers, and yet numerous high-profile media sources did not report the incident as “terrorism,” in spite of the fact that the attacker had a history of violent behavior and Christian extremism.
Instead, reports of the incident largely emphasize the gunman’s “loner” tendencies, sometimes even invoking the word “gentle,” as if a man who went on to open fire on a health clinic and abortion provider was anything akin to “gentle.”
Language, especially the language employed by a white-dominated media, is steeped in racism, and failing to align this criminal with anything remotely malicious is an act of white supremacy. It is crucial to address crimes, including and especially this form of crime, as something that is part of a broader pattern: male entitlement, anti-choice beliefs, and hateful rhetoric that does not exist in a vacuum but rather incites individuals like the Planned Parenthood shooter to action.
Furthermore, discussing the shooting as an “isolated incident” indicates complacency with white violence that goes unnamed as such, and instead attributes the pattern of white male shooters to loneliness and other various excuses, all of which fall short in describing the misogynist thought processes that contribute to shootings of these kinds.
White men, as a whole, will not be asked to apologize for this act of terrorism, nor will they be required to provide an explanation for why they are an exception even though this kind of violence is so tied to their race. Their misogyny will not be called into question. No one will demand white men to explain that they aren’t violent; it was just someone who looked like them who was.
Not addressing the privilege that whiteness affords these criminals contributes to systemic racism, and by reporting violent acts such as the Planned Parenthood shooting with such passivity, such neutrality, only serves to emphasize that the white men who commit these atrocities are “exceptions” rather than the rule.
Whiteness affords criminal acts incredible lenience, even forgiveness; never mind that shooters often express jingoistic rhetoric as their reason for going on a killing spree, or are evidenced misogynists, or at some point confuse “pro-life” with “pro-killing.”
Additionally, the fact that this man was arrested “peacefully,” in spite of not only shooting multiple police officers but also killing one, serves to highlight racial prejudices in law enforcement, and the soft treatment that white killers so often receive.
As long as these acts of terrorism are treated and reported with such harmful indifference, they will not be perceived as part of a larger pattern of deep bias that urges these individuals to pursue violent means of action.
Addressing these events as parts of a white terrorism pattern rather than as “isolated incidents” frames the issue at hand in a more serious light, in a light that is more indicative of the events as they actually occurred rather than as they have been downplayed by media outlets.
The widespread systematic racism in the news industry is unacceptable. The responsibility of the media lies not only in reporting the news, but reporting it accurately, responsibly, and ethically.
It is imperative that reporters, journalists, and media outlets as a whole utilize language that accurately reflects a situation at hand, and strive to portray violent acts as violent acts rather than something that casually happened on a Friday.