As you know by now, a reporter and her cameraman were shot and killed Wednesday on live TV in Roanoke, Virginia. The shooter was a a former reporter at the same station his victims, 24-year-old WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old photographer Adam Ward, worked for. Another woman was shot at the scene and apparently will recover. The shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, fatally shot himself in his car after fleeing. He had used Bryce Williams as his professional name.
Later it was learned that Flanagan had successfully sued the station (it settled), which had fired him in 2013 after he had worked there briefly. Earlier he’d been employed at several other stations across the country, and had sued some of them as well. He tweeted prior to his rampage that Parker had used a racist term in his presence.
“A man claiming to be Bryce Williams called ABC News over the last few weeks, saying he wanted to pitch a story and wanted to fax information. He never told ABC News what the story was.This morning, a fax was in the machine (time stamped 8:26 a.m.) almost two hours after the shooting. A little after 10 a.m., he called again, and introduced himself as Bryce, but also said his legal name was Vester Lee Flanagan, and that he shot two people this morning. While on the phone, he said authorities are “after me,” and “all over the place.” He hung up. ABC News contacted the authorities immediately and provided them with the fax.”
The 23 page fax included such comments as…
- “MY NAME IS BRYCE WILLIAMS. Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15”
- “What sent me over the top was the church shooting,” referring to June’s mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
- “And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”
- “As for [Charleston shooting suspect] Dylann Roof? You [censored]! You want a race war [censored]? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE …[censored]!!!”
- “I was influenced by [ Virginia Tech shooter] Seung–Hui Cho….That’s my boy right there. He got NEARLY double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold got…just sayin.”
A few observations:
- Early on in the reports and even now, after the shooter is known, the news media has conspicuously avoided mentioning the races of the individuals involved, as if it was irrelevant. The victims were white, the shooter was black. In the case of Dylann Roof and the Charleston shooting, race was the focus of the reporting from the start. Why? Well, when there are black victims and a white killer, racism is now presumed, just as it was in the cases of George Zimmerman and Officer Wilson in Ferguson. This is bias.
- Even after the media was aware of Flanagan‘s race-related tweets and accusation against his female victim of racism, suggesting race as a possible motive for the shooting was avoided in the reporting. This is incompetent.
- Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, within hours of the shooting, decided to exploit the tragedy to push gun regulations. “I’m trying to bring common sense ideas,” he said. “As I say, I’m a hunter, I’m a gun owner, I go through background checks. There are individuals in this country who should not be allowed to own a firearm. And it’s just to me common sense and tragic, that this kind of legislation cannot be passed and signed into law.”He was then asked by a reporter if there was any reason to believe that the shooter had obtained his gun without a background check, didn’t have a permit, or had a criminal record or other issues in his background that would suggest that he should not own a gun.
“I don’t know anything,” McAuliffe answered. “I don’t. At this stage, I don’t.”
Then shut up, Governor! This is irresponsible. It appears, in fact, that before going bonkers and homicidal, Flanagan did not have a criminal record, nor had he been treated for mental illness. His ranting fax indicated that he placed a deposit on a gun, meaning that he endured a waiting period. Using every example of gun violence to argue for changes in the laws that wouldn’t have prevented the incident being used to make the argument, or to do so when sufficient laws are already in place and just failed, is dishonest and manipulative. The only way to prevent shootings like the one today would be to make it nearly impossible for responsible, law-abiding citizens to own guns, and that is exactly what McAuliffe and the anti-gun zealots in his party and the media want. They will not admit it, of course, so they attempt to make their case when emotion is at its most distorting level, in the wake of a high-profile tragedy. They don’t want a dispassionate, considered debate on the facts. They want gun restrictions legislated in the throes of fear and hysteria, if that’s the only way to get them.
- Sherman Lea, Jr, an African-American who is a speaker and entrepreneur, had his photo broadcast to television news audiences and put on social media as the shooter because an image of Lea with Parker together was discovered on Lea’s Twitter account. The social media users who did this (TV corrected the mistake quickly) were reckless. There needs to be a well-publicized and community enforced social media code of ethics, and the unethical conduct of spreading potentially deadly misinformation without confirmation has to be prohibited by it.
- Kwami Rose, an influential, anti-white activist in Baltimore, has tweeted that the shooting demonstrates the impact of white racism. If a white shooter shoots black victims, it’s white racism. If a black shooter targets white victims…it’s still white racism. This convenient formula will never bring the races closer to mutual respect and understanding, but many, including much of the news media, have embraced it.
- President Obama, like McAulliffe, decided that the incident had no greater significance than to demonstrate the need for more anti-gun laws.“It breaks my heart every time you read about or hear about these kinds of incidents,” he said.
What kind of incidents?
“What we know,” he continued, “is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism.”
Oh, those kinds of incidents. When a white man shot up a black church, the President similarly exploited the tragedy to try to ride emotion rather than reason toward gun legislation, but he also immediately talked about how “the hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals….” When a black man said that he was eager to incite a race war in response to that shooting and committed his own senseless killings of those with a different skin color, racial hate had nothing to do with it, or at least not enough to warrant calming words from our President. No, this was just about guns.
Let me be clear. President Obama and his racially divisive rhetoric and policies have exacerbated that hatred and distrust across races, and, as harsh as it is to say, have done so in part intentionally, for political advantage. The increased and deadly tensions between police and inner city black communities are one result; the racial paranoia that apparently drove Vester Lee Flanagan to murder is another. Yes, and the extraordinary and decisive turnout of black voters to re-elect Barack Obama was a third, so it was all worth it, I guess.
If Flanagan had survived his suicide attempt, would our Justice Department have investigated his as a “hate crime”? I doubt it very much.
UPDATE: I am watching CNN’s Chris Cuomo interviewing Alison Parker’s father, who is understandably distraught, grief-stricken and angry. He is vowing to become the “John Walsh of gun control,” and saying, as Chris nods without providing any necessary enlightenment for either Mr. Parker or the CNN audience, that we have to make it harder for “crazy people to get guns.” At this point, we know enough not to misrepresent Flanagan as just a crazy person with a gun. He was a crazy black racist with a gun who had been persuaded, in a culture and media environment that works over-time trying to make African Americans fear and distrust their own neighbors if they happen to be white, that Alison Parker was a racist and that it was time to start a race war. That’s a fact, and Cuomo should not even allow a grieving father to ignore and obscure it.
Cuomo should also mention, though as an anti-gun advocate himself, he won’t, that in order to keep guns out of the hands of “crazies” like Flanagan, who have not done anything yet that proves how crazy they are, we would have to ban guns entirely.