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When Does Domestic Terrorism Go Unnoticed? When the Victims are Black.

by Kasai Rex

January 8, 2015
Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

On Christmas day in 1951, after taking on the 1949 Groveland, Florida, rape case (where four young black men were accused of raping a white woman), a bomb was placed underneath Florida NAACP Florida State Conference founder Harry T. Moore’s bed, killing him. Moore had only weeks prior spoken out against the sheriff investigating the case, who’d shot two defendants, killing one, while transporting them to a pre-trial hearing. The incident gained national attention.

How unsettling it is now to see the same type of concentrated violence today, an echo of the bombings perpetuated by the Klan and others in Jim Crow America. But if it was not for social media, in particular Twitter, one may have missed the act of terror that played out in Colorado Springs on Tuesday morning. Now declared “deliberate” by the FBI, an improvised explosive device was detonated in the late morning hours outside the headquarters of the local NAACP chapter. The IED was placed next to a can of gasoline, which did not explode, but the blast shook the neighborhood according to residents. 

Harrowing as the act was, the media silence in the wake of the bombing seemed as egregious, especially given the 24-hour news networks’ typical tendency to carpet-bomb us with coverage. If there were no Twitter, I and many others (the musician Questlove tweeted out: “thank god for social media cause i woulda never known otherwise”) would have been in the dark in the wake of this frightening and brazen act. In the hours following the Los Angeles Times piece breaking the story (for a while the lone bit of coverage from a major outlet), it became clear to the Twittersphere that CNN et al. weren’t biting on what amounted to domestic terrorism, aimed specifically at a black organization. Before long, the #NAACPBombing hashtag would become the top trending topic worldwide, not due to media coverage, but because of wholesale outrage over the lack thereof, serving as a reminder of social media’s importance in pushing for transparency and equality.

Those old stalwarts of the internet, racist trolls, have since been quick to try and sabotage the #NAACPBombing hashtag, stating that there was no loss of life, nor any serious structural damage. The terrorist they seem so eager to defend, or at least absolve, a man now sought by authorities, was intent on violence against a specific group of people, using means now familiar to Americans (the IED) because of our overseas wars on terror. Furthermore, he detonated his weapon in the morning, when he knew there would be people inside the building. Calling this anything other than terrorism, which outlets such as ABC and CNN have now chosen to do, is problematic at best.

Across the Atlantic a day later, an attack on staff at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in response to caricatures of Muhammad, would leave 12 dead and the world in shock, a tragedy with its own hashtag (#JeSuisCharlie) and plenty of coverage on social media and major media outlets alike. Obviously the many deaths resulting from the Paris attack heightened the newsworthiness of that event, but the NAACP bombing largely flew under the radar in its aftermath, despite the anti-civil rights message and echoes of white supremacy theories the act recalled. 

The gut-level fear and anger stoked by an event like the Charlie Hebdo attack is easier for the media machine to latch onto, to be sure, and the violence’s senseless horror is beyond debate. Yet, after a summer and fall of unarmed black men and women being snuffed out by police across the country, the fact that Twitter users had to beg CNN and others to cover this attempt to maim and murder employees of black America’s most recognizable institution were doubly bothersome. 

Reports of the Colorado bombing are more visible days after the fact, in large part due to the massive outcry for coverage on social media. Yet one is left to wonder whether the media’s lack of initiative here would have existed if a similar attack had been perpetrated against a white organization? Where are the journalists interviewing white men and asking if they support this act of violence simply because they too are white? They are focusing on France, asking any given Muslim their thoughts about “gunmen,” “militants,” and “extremists.”  

The deaths at Charlie Hebdo wrench loose deep-seated and prolonged fears, both rational and inane. This is the core intention of any terrorist act. Yet, in the case of Paris, we are constantly prodded to consider the religion and ideology of the attackers. In Colorado, there is no such rhetoric, as the person of interest is “a balding white man in his 40s” who is somehow no bogeyman, no representative of all of white America, or even a particular segment of white America, but rather one variable in the case.

As acts of terror play out abroad, the person of color in the United States may be legitimately more worried about such violence at the hands of his or her countrymen more so than masked extremists presumed to originate from a foreign land. Even more difficult to process is the media’s unwillingness to acknowledge an act of terror like the one in Colorado on Tuesday morning. When CNN anchors raised the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” posture familiarized by recent protests back in December, it seemed a tepid, face-saving attempt at solidarity. Yet, it’s apparent from the thousands of tweets pleading for coverage of Tuesday’s act of terror that we now demand a clearer commitment from mainstream media in the pursuit of justice for all.

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When Does Domestic Terrorism Go Unnoticed? When the Victims are Black.