If the Las Vegas shooter had been black, the media headlines and the tone of the investigation would be a lot different. Instead of being labeled a “lone wolf” or a “demented” man with mental health issues — a black or brown man who committed the same horrific act would by default be called a terrorist, criminal or worse.
After the shooting, HuffPost points out that major news outlets across the country wrote headlines that humanized mass murderer Stephen Paddock. For example, The Washington Post felt compelled to report that he “liked to gamble, listened to country music and lived a quiet retired life.”
Doesn’t he sound like a sweetheart?
The media also portrayed his violent behavior as an anomaly, explaining he “doesn’t fit [the] mass shooter profile.” Paddock, however, precisely fits the profile.
Mother Jones reports that since1982 the majority of mass shootings — 54 percent — were committed by white men. The 64-year-old’s age is the only factor setting him apart from his homicidal counterparts, since the median age is 35. Black people were the second largest perpetrators of mass shootings based on ethnic background, but only accounted for roughly 16 percent of the total incidents during the same time period.
Journalist and activist Shaun King (@ShaunKing) tweeted, “I implore all members of the media to refuse to use this racially coded “lone wolf” language…They mean white.”
Past mass shooters who were nonwhite or Muslim have been depicted quite differently― and so have people of color who were victims of gun violence.
“There’s a clear difference in the way this kind of incident is treated and the way it would be treated if it were actually associated with Islam or Muslims,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told HuffPost. “It would be instantly called an act of domestic or even international terrorism; it wouldn’t be individualized, but collectivized to the entire Muslim community or faith of Islam.”
Folks on Twitter were quick to point out that nonwhite and Muslim perpetrators of violence don’t often get such humanizing profiles after the fact.
Actor and activist Jesse Williams (@JesseWilliams) tweeted about the hypocrisy:
“When an unarmed Black person gets killed, the 1st thing we learn are her/his vices. White guy slaughters people…Gosh, what did he enjoy?”
And director Ava DuVernay (@Ava) tweeted, “The lone wolf. The local shooter. The gunman. Any and everything, but terrorist. Wonder why.”
By contrast, some media coverage of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody in 2015, focused on her “prior run-ins with the law.”
And after unarmed teen Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown spread on social media as people of color wondered how the media would depict them if they were killed.
“There is nothing wrong with including human details in reporting,” journalist Farai Chideya told HuffPost via email. “When we choose to do it is telling.”