You are probably wondering why anyone would even need to write a blog post explaining the above. But reactions to the verdict in the Renisha McBride case demonstrate that apparently, this seemingly obvious truth is not obvious to everyone.
On Thursday, suburban Detroit homeowner Theodore Wafer was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting Renisha McBride, who had arrived on his porch drunk and banged repeatedly on the door. She had just been in a car crash and was looking for help from people living nearby. He claimed self defense. When the verdict was announced, the Associated Press had the audacity to tweet: “Suburban Detroit homeowner convicted of second-degree murder for killing woman who showed up drunk on porch.”
Derrick Clifton at Mic.com characterized this as a “particularly galling tweet” which “dehumanized the victim, invoking a long history of ignorance and victim-blaming endured by the African-American community.” In a column on BET.com, Keith Boykin called the tweet “sensationalistic” and “victim-shaming” and wrote that the AP “robbed Renisha McBride of her dignity in death.” Goldie Taylor, someone who was interviewed in Boykin’s column, said that the AP used “code words” that “seemed to be casting a moral judgment on the victim” and reflected a “cultural bias” in favor of Wafer. Rashad Robinson, also interviewed in Boykin’s column, said the AP “stoked the flames of fear and racial tension to sell a story.” Numerous people took to Twitter to ridicule the AP, using the hashtag, #APHeadlines.
I have read this tweet over and over again in my head. For the life of me, I cannot find anything even remotely offensive or objectionable about it. I see nothing “galling,” “ignorant,” or “dehumanizing” about summarizing, without comment or opinion, the basic facts of a case. Clifton criticizes the AP for “reducing the situation to a ‘Detroit homeowner’ who ‘fatally shot a drunk woman’ on his porch.” Well, yes. That is precisely what happened.
The fact that anyone would be even remotely offended by this tweet, let alone so offended that they would expend time and effort ridiculing the AP, boggles my mind.
Boykin contrasts the AP’s headline with that of the Detroit Free Press, which tweeted, “Theodore Wafer convicted of second-degree murder, manslaughter and felony firearm in the fatal shooting of Renisha McBride.” Either of these headlines is acceptable. If anything, one could argue that the Free Press’s headline is biased against Wafer for listing all the crimes he was convicted of when second-degree murder is by far the most significant one. Additionally, Boykin suggested that it would be more appropriate to describe McBride as “unarmed” than “drunk.” I also think that this, if anything, would be a less neutral choice and would arguably create an impression of bias against Wafer.
And then there is the accusation of “victim-blaming.” No one is “victim-blaming” here. There is no debate about whether or not a victim should be blamed. The debate is about whether McBride or Wafer is the true victim. I think there are legitimate arguments on both sides. It is not right to imply, as Clifton and Boykin do, that McBride is obviously a victim of murder and Wafer obviously a murderer. Those who believe Wafer acted in self-defense are not “victim-blaming;” they simply have a different opinion about who the victim is. But regardless of whom you believe was the victim and whom you believe was the aggressor, the AP’s tweet did not take a side on this matter. The AP most certainly is not “victim-blaming” by reporting neutrally and factually (which is exactly what a news outlet is supposed to do).
We’ve now reached a state of affairs in which neutral, unbiased language is considered “galling,” and where anything other than being biased against white people is considered racist. All those who ridiculed the AP for the apparently grave sin of not being sufficiently biased and inaccurate should be ashamed of themselves.
Perhaps the most ironic tweet was the following:
— Michelle Burnett (@muhdee2009) August 8, 2014
First of all, the whole idea of “black Twitter” involves grouping people together by race, and is therefore racist. Second of all, why the pompous gloating about how the AP was “taken down a notch”? That implies that the AP did something wrong, or that there was something righteous or honorable about the hostile reactions of “black Twitter” (whatever the heck that is). Neither of these is the case. Third of all, the AP “put this on itself”? Really? A news organization brought completely unjustified ridicule from hordes of logic-challenged bullies on itself by tweeting a neutral, unbiased headline? Now that is victim-blaming.