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Media Bias from Waco to Baltimore

A week or so ago in Waco, Texas, two biker gangs executed a mass shooting. Over 100 weapons were found at the scene, 170 bikers were charged with a crime, and nine gang members were killed. Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the violent shooting was the first time “we’ve seen this type of violence in broad daylight”.   But according to the Associated Press, the Texas Department of Public Safety informed authorities as early as May 1st that biker gangs were expected to violently clash. Why did police not preemptively deter this gang violence? Why were police not prepared to handle the expected attack? More importantly, why was the National Guard sent to handle young Black children in Baltimore but not in response to violent biker gangs planning a war in Texas? Say it with me: racism. And I’m not the first to notice. 

From the childlike care the news took with coverage of the horrific gang shooting, to the lack of outrage, the lack of character assassination, and the noticeable absence of militarized police, people noticed. 

People immediately noticed the difference in how the media reports on killings related to Black people and how they report on killings related to white people. If this biker gang violence was produced by a Black gang, headlines would be wildly different. The language used would be incendiary at best and racist at worst. The words “gang”, “violent”, “murder”, and any other that would elicit a fear response would be littered through articles and spewed from the mouths of news anchors. The New York Times referred to this mass shooting as “the worst violence in the Waco area since the siege on the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 that left 86 people dead”. And yet there was the picture of gang members still at the scene where nine gang members were murdered.  They were casually on their phones and otherwise hanging out while one lone policeman in the shot is holding his gun facing the ground. 
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Compare that to these images from protests:

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Stark difference, isn’t it? In one, the police are simply there to maintain peace for local residents. In the others, police are there to punish residents.  Which is from a protest? And which is from a mass shooting involving rival gangs? Right. Well, if nothing else, it should at the very least prompt such questions as:
  • Why are the police so willing to destroy Black communities and litter their streets with tear gas canisters but don’t want to disturb a white community?
  • Why do police vilify Black residents and  feel that using the national guard and a heavily militarized police force is appropriate response to unarmed individuals?
  • Why were Black neighborhoods in Baltimore and Ferguson subjected to a curfew while more bikers in Texas were allowed to travel toward the scene of the crime?
  • When was the last time I saw police deal with an armed or unarmed white person in the same aggressive manner as I’ve seen them use with Black people?
Twitter user Andrew Mastin posted this picture of two lines of bikers riding into town with the message, “Stay inside, Waco. This was taken in Bellmead”
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In response, ESPN contributor Bomani Jones tweeted, “Seriously, how does this happen? And by *this* i mean… not a lot of gangs are coming into town in a single file line without some serious resistance from law enforcement.”
In her 2014 article, “Disgust, Harm, and Morality in Politics”, Dr. Bloom states that when thoughts of disgust or harm are invoked, “the perceived seriousness of the original violation” increases. In other words, reminding people of the harm or disgust that could be caused by a situation causes them to reassess the original event and perceive it as more serious than initially thought. Let’s relate this to media coverage of the recent police shootings of unarmed Black Americans. Language matters.  Notice the difference in the following two headlines about gang truces.
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One of these gangs is being trusted to control their violence when dealing with police. The other, after calling for a truce, was accused of forming some elite squad of gangbangers with the intention of killing cops. That’s no small matter.  What better way to invoke thoughts of harm than to say that there are people attacking cops, the blindly loved and respected authority figures in the United States of America?
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In the words of political psychology specialist Dr. Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom “the vast majority of Americans are politically unknowledgeable”. Don’t be offended. Blame the education system. However, because political prowess isn’t exactly the top skill for most citizens of the United States of America, it’s important to say something when we see something. Well, a lot of us saw something wrong with how the media covered the gang shooting in Waco, Texas. So when we see headlines from people who ostensibly have studied to become above average skilled in journalism, we have to wonder if they are purposeful. When CNN calls this vicious gunfight between rival gangs a “fight”, that’s bias. And to lead a tweet with the positive fact that weapons were recovered is a luxury Black suspects are not afforded and borderlines on journalistic malpractice. 
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As popular activist Deray pointed out on twitter, this is happening at news outlets across the country.
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My final point is this: almost every day when we wake up in this country, we are bombarded with images of white cops murdering unarmed Black people. There are 6 second clips on vine. TIME magazine at the video autoplay on their website. There are instagram pictures of Michael Brown laying in the street dead. And yet at this huge massacre perpetrated by white biker gangbangers, there was not this fascination and sick obsession with seeing and sharing dead white bodies. That’s important.

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