The shooters will not be named in this article to avoid giving them a platform and out of respect for the victims.
Since 1999, the U.S. has had a series of mass shootings. Although the victims of these shootings vary, along with the locations of these shootings (from high schools to concerts), most of them have had the same outcome – the loss of innocent life. These shooters have different motives for committing these types of heinous crimes. However, the way the media portray particular shooters can vary based on race, religion, and other demographics.
For instance, the Columbine High School massacre (1999) involved 13 deaths and 24 injuries from semi-automatic pistols. The White perpetrators also committed suicide at the scene of the crime. The media portrayed the shooters as “outcast boys” who felt misunderstood and needed the outlet of “violence.” Not only is this narrative harmful to persons of colour, but this has unfortunately inspired other shooters to resort to similar means. This is known as the Columbine Effect.
One of those inspired by Columbine was the Sandy Hook shooter (2012). The shooter had a Tumblr account featuring a collage of the Columbine shooters and even took a trip to Columbine to get “inspired.” This shooting claimed 26 lives. Many of the victims were preschoolers and teachers who lost their entire lives and futures in under eleven minutes. The shooter committed suicide and also murdered their mother before going to school. The media speculated about the shooter’s childhood and “troubled past,” rather than focusing on the atrocious crime committed.
Now let’s dwell on two other shootings,perpetrated by Muslims. Since 9/11, everyone knows that Muslims have been attacked and labeled as “terrorists” discreetly by specific media sources and other people. It comes as no surprise that when the Pulse nightclub shooter killed 49 people at a gay bar in Orlando, instead of focusing on the crime, the media focused on covering the shooter’s religion, mentioned ISIS, and Islamic Jihad. Similarly, the recent shooting in Boulder, Colorado, which claimed the lives of 10 people, also involved a Muslim shooter. People on various forums were upset by this and mocked Islam, claiming that it isn’t the “religion of peace.” Similarly, people questioned the shooter’s place in America, especially because the shooter was an immigrant, and many believed the shooter should not have been allowed in America.
Although I am in no way justifying any of these horrible crimes and losses of life, I think deeper investigation and critical thinking need to be utilized when reading these headlines. Why do Black people and Muslims get labeled as “terrorists” or have “crime-ridden” pasts, but when the shooter happens to be White, the headline outlines details of the shooter’s life and isolation? This phenomenon isn’t just unique to mass shootings but also relates to other issues, such as police brutality,the most well-known instance being George Floyd’s murder. Floyd being a Black man resulted in the media and Derek Chauvin’s lawyer trying to frame his death on his drug use,rather than Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
I think the narrative needs to change, especially because this harms BIPOC more so than is evident. Using headlines shaming Islam and affiliating a shooting with the religion or claiming that Black people “commit more crimes” results in more hatred, bigotry, and acts of violence against these already-marginalized groups. Claiming a shooter’s “having a bad day” continues to excuse criminal and malicious behaviour and shifts the narrative away from the loss of innocent life. I’m sure many of us have had bad days and resort to taking a nap or break – not taking a life.