Another day, another act of domestic terrorism.
On Sunday night, a white gunman opened fire on the large crowd attending the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas killing over 50 people and injuring over 500. Sadly, this has surpassed last year’s Pulse nightclub tragedy as the deadliest recorded mass shooting in modern American history.
As most of the country awaited more information on the suspect, now being identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, an initial police update referred to him as “a local individual.” Seeing the incident not being called an act of terrorism triggered me:
Once again, America was embarrassing itself in front of the world. I was left with many questions: Why was this not initially considered an act of domestic terrorism? Why is Paddock being described as a “local individual” as opposed to a more detailed description? Does one have to appear as Muslim in order for the act to be considered terrorism? Does one have to be Black in order to be labeled a gunman?
Right away, I realized how this narrative was going to go: the suspect will be white, the media will frame them as a lone wolf or troubled soul, potential mental health problems will be used as empathetic excuses from non-experts and the gun control debate will be rehashed on cable television. As news channels begin to humanize a mass murderer by allowing Paddock’s brother to try to dismiss the mass shooting as an act of terrorism because he had no political or religious affiliation, I’m reminded of the double standards white criminals are granted.
First off, white people don’t get to define what terrorism is. The majority of violent mass shootings on our nation’s soil were committed by white men — they were domestic terrorists. Second, religion and politics do not define one’s ability to commit terrorism. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist, if you kill a group of people unlawfully, you are a terrorist. Lastly, none of these exemptions are given to people of color who have committed such crimes, so saying there has to be a political or religious motivation for a mass murder to be considered terrorism is racist.
And while we are speaking about race, the contradiction of calling these acts of domestic terrorism simply “American tragedies” and not pointing out a specific demographic is also striking. When a shooting takes place in Chicago among Black people, the Black community is often told nationally how much this is an epidemic among people of color and where Blacks need to place their concerns. Even in instances where we are speaking out on police brutality, we are told to care about crimes being committed within our own communities as if we aren’t already doing that anyway. “Black-on-Black crime” is the phrase hurled at our faces when we speak out about injustice happening elsewhere. Interestingly enough, we have yet to see notions of “white-on-white crime” run rampant in times where white folks are killing others in their designated racial communities because those are often reframed with sentiments such as “Pray for (any city impacted by white terrorism)” instead.
I’ve come to realize that “white-on-white crime” doesn’t stick because the media often does not highlight when white people kill other white people at a rate that would scare us into dismissing any other atrocities they might be hindered with.
So today, I’ve come up with a better term: “white-on-everyone crime.”
When white terrorists commit a crime that gets enough publicity to impact us all, it often involves everyone. From Sandy Hook to Charlottesville, white criminals have proven that they don’t need any specific political affiliation or religious connection outside of their whiteness to afflict harm. While some tried to inaccurately associate the Black Dallas police shooter to Black Lives Matter, there’s seems to be no social justice leanings white terrorists have to cling to in order for us to understand their actions. While some strive to tell me to worry about that “Black-on-Black crime” they claim is more worrisome, it’s actually the “white-on-everyone crime” that seems to induce the most societal distress and unease.
In this year alone, we have seen more than our fair share of “white-on-everyone crime” tearing down this country each day. Perhaps some serious discussions on whiteness and its impact on our culture, health, politics and justice systems might help us find better ways to tackle the terrorism it can sometimes cause. If Blackness is always going to be used as causation for the crimes that impact my community, shouldn’t whiteness be held to the same standard?
If not, then America isn’t interested in dismantling the double standards upheld in our current criminal justice system or fighting domestic terrorism.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Ernest Owens is the editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly. He has written for USA Today, NBC News, The Grio, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and ernestowens.com.