Although it is virtually indisputable that Wednesday night’s mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was a hate crime fueled by racism, coverage of the crime’s aftermath brings about questions regarding white privilege in a racially polarized America.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the sole suspect in the case was arrested earlier today in North Carolina. Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white male, was arrested at a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, on Thursday morning. Reports from a survivor of the attack as well as cursory reviews of Roof’s Facebook page indicate the suspect harbored deep running resentment and overt hostility towards African Americans. Of particular note to many was a picture from Roof’s Facebook page in which he sports a jacket featuring the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and white-dominated Rhodesia. The Facebook page is now offline.
Questions regarding how police and media have handled and depicted Roof began shortly after his arrest, gaining momentum via social media. Many are asking how a white, armed suspect in a mass shooting could be taken alive without incident, especially considering a recent spate of killings of African-American males by police. BBC News recently published an article (prior to the South Carolina shooting) reviewing some of the most high-profile cases, including those of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray. On Twitter, many posts decrying the apparent differences in police tactics and temperaments with regard to Dylann Roof’s treatment carried the hashtag #WhitePrivilege.
— Shonna (@cutei_Pi) June 18, 2015
— JenLovesOBG (@JenlovesOBG) June 18, 2015
— Elsa Waithe (@elsajustelsa) June 18, 2015
Similar concerns were expressed via Facebook.
“Can someone explain to me how this guy killed nine people and was not killed by police upon contact with them when unarmed raza or Africans are murdered constantly, Amado Guzmán wrote.
A meme also points out that police appeared to handle Roof with relative kid gloves during his first “perp walk” before the media, showing a picture of Roof with police juxtaposed against an image of a white police officer sitting on a 14-year-old African-American girl during the course of a controversial arrest at a pool party in McKinney, Texas earlier this month.
Media coverage of the South Carolina shooting has also raised questions regarding how race factors into media descriptions of suspects, noting that Roof has been described in comparatively sympathetic terms considering. One meme compares a headline from the Daily Beast that describes Roof as “quiet and soft spoken” with a New York Times piece on Ferguson shooting victim Michael Brown that alleged he was “no angel” because he smoked, drank, and rapped.
Salon’s Chauncey DeVega maintains there is a racial double standard in America that becomes increasingly clear with a cursory review of the media coverage surrounding the South Carolina shooting. He includes a list of questions and phrases that will not be used by media outlets in their discussion of the white suspect, noting that similar questions are commonplace when a suspect is African American, such as “is something wrong with the white family?” and “what should law enforcement and white politicians do about white crime?”
“Once and again, white privilege is the power to be the ultimate individual where one’s actions and behavior rarely if ever reflects on the collective character of white people en masse,” DeVega asserts.
Indeed, despite the lingering presence of broad-based and systemic issues that perpetuate and exacerbate race-based antagonisms in today’s America, there remains a prominent lack of cohesive and coherent strategies that might ultimately yield the type of social justice needed to assuage racial tensions once and for all. Tragedies like the South Carolina shooting – both the heinous crime itself and its emotional epilogue – bring the ugliest facets of the country’s dysfunction to the forefront, time and again.
[Photo by Charleston County Sheriff’s Office via Getty Images]