Double Standards in Coverage and Response?

My newsfeed is full of stories questioning the role of race in covering the recent incident in Waco, Texas, where a shootout between rival biker gangs left nine people dead, seven hospitalized, and many more wounded.

Some of these memes have been straight up erroneous, arguing that our country’s racial double standard is clearly demonstrated by the fact that nobody was arrested following this shootout. That’s a tough sell, though, since 170 people were arrested and are each being held on $1 million bond.

Other articles question the language used to describe these white perpetrators – people in Baltimore were described as “thugs” why not these gang members?

That’s a really interesting question and I’d love to see more data on the words used to cover different incidents. For me, the absence of the word “thugs” is not enough to see a clear distinction in media coverage.

After all, the mayor of Baltimore apologized for using that word, and frankly, I’m not sure “gang member” is much better – to me it sounds like a thug with a better network.

(Although I do have to question NBC’s decision to use the word “rumble” – what is this, West Side Story?)

All of this is not to say that there aren’t terrible racial inequities in this country. If the news coverage has been biased, than we should think carefully about how all crimes should be covered.

But while news coverage is important, I’m far more interested in a different question – how do institutions treat people differently?

The shootout happened at an event for which a “coalition of motorcycle groups had reserved the outdoor bar area.”

Just right there that sounds different.

These are groups known for illicit activity and violently defending their territory. Yet their freedom to assemble remains impinged.

Frankly, I think that’s good. While it may come with some risk, there’s a reason that right is guaranteed to us in the Constitution.

However, it’s a right that can be easily taken a way by mandatory curfews for an entire city.

Police arrived on the scene in Waco “within 30 to 45 seconds” of the first gunshots. They opened fire on the warring gang members only after “some bikers turned their weapons on law enforcement.”

From what I can tell, police responded swiftly, strongly, and appropriately – none of which were true in Baltimore. In that city, police set up a situation almost destined to turn into a riot, and then didn’t have enough force to shut down what they created.

Baltimore was a hot mess from top to bottom.

It’s hard to tell empirically just what led to the different responses. Baltimore is a city know for its corruption and mismanagement. Texas is…a place where its not surprising that they have no qualms about hosting a gathering of armed criminals.

It’s almost impossible to believe that race wasn’t a factor in this differing response, but I also wonder – are there lessons we can learn more broadly from Texas about institutional support and police response?

That is to say, we shouldn’t just be asking whether media has a double standard. We should be asking that of ourselves and of all our institutions.


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