Just one day after 24-year-old Mark Conditt, the bomber responsible for killing two and injuring several others in Austin, Texas over the span of three weeks, killed himself after detonating a bomb in a ditch, media outlets have been bending over backwards to humanize him, describing Conditt as “quiet,” “shy,” and “kind.”
On Wednesday, The Washington Post headlined its profile of Conditt by referring to him as “frustrated,” and led with an idyllic description of the bomber’s hometown, before offering a gentle account of his “quiet and shy” demeanor. The New York Times shed light on Conditt’s “tight-knit” and “deeply religious” family. And the Associated Press led with the perspective of Conditt’s uncle, who described the killer as “smart and kind.”
I've been frustrated for a long time and haven't detonated any bombs. https://t.co/hVKrw3egBX
— deray (@deray) March 22, 2018
Ahhh. What sweet little serial killler. He's just the most adorable terrorist ever. https://t.co/ROdRlgKLuo
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) March 21, 2018
These descriptions are a privilege often afforded to white male criminals — from Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter, who was described as a “once-quiet, bright boy” by The Wall Street Journal, to Colorado theater shooter James Holmes who was referred to as “quiet” and “irritable” by ABC News. On Thursday, the Associated Press described Austin Rollins, the 17-year-old who shot and injured two students at a high school in Maryland, as a “lovesick teen.”
It is just incredibly fucked up that you can shoot a woman, leave her "fighting for her life," and still be described as a "lovesick teen" https://t.co/UeKgelNV3w
— Chloe Angyal (@ChloeAngyal) March 22, 2018
In Conditt’s case, the Austin Police Department, as well as the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers, have enabled such placid depictions. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Wednesday that the 25-minute recording that Conditt left behind was “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about the challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.”
Before that, the department reportedly wasn’t even seriously considering the case, and treated Conditt’s first victim, 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House, as a potential suspect. Earlier this month, APD Assistant Chief Joseph Chacon told reporters, “We can’t rule out that Mr. House didn’t construct this himself and accidentally detonate it … I do not believe that we have someone going around leaving packages like this.”
“When it first happened, we didn’t feel like police were taking our family seriously,” House’s brother, Norrell Waynewood, told The Daily Beast.
On Tuesday morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that the Austin bombings have “no apparent nexus to terrorism at this time.” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul (R) told Fox News on Thursday that the bombings were not “terror-related” and that Conditt was a “disturbed young man.”
Conditt was a “nice kid from a good family.” Nevermind his racism, which was apparent in his initial targeting of Black and Latinx neighborhoods when planting his bombs. Both individuals who died — House and 17-year-old Draylen Mason — came from prominent Black families who knew one another.
You know who else probably enjoyed his family and his neighbors? Draylen Mason. And he was 17 (despite, i might add, being referred to as a “man” in some news reports I’ve heard). And he lost his life. pic.twitter.com/VmLUDDDPur
— wikipedia "Killmonger, But Make It Feminist" brown (@eveewing) March 22, 2018
The media’s attention on and humanization of Conditt has largely overshadowed the bomber’s actual victims, who have received little media coverage. In a Thursday morning Facebook post, activist and writer Shaun King pointed out this glaring discrepancy, saying that “Black VICTIMS of white violence get less sympathy & compassion” than that afforded to Conditt.
On Twitter, others were quick to notice this trend:
The press hasn’t just been more sympathetic to the Austin bomber than to unarmed black people killed by police, they’ve done more humazing of him than they have of THE INNOCENT BLACK PEOPLE HE ACTUALLY MURDERED.
— Ashley Nicole Black Panther (@ashleyn1cole) March 22, 2018
Would a brown or black man who targeted and killed white people then blew himself up to evade arrest get this kind of coverage? How can this country address terrorism in any meaningful way when the narrative is so starkly different based on the identity of perps and victims? https://t.co/3UoqtByQfG
— Laila Lalami (@LailaLalami) March 21, 2018
Criminals of color, on the other hand, are often otherized, described as “radicalized” and “violent,” and are typically viewed as representatives of the communities and cultures from which they hail. This makes their acts of violence “a double calamity” for communities of color, wrote journalist Alex Shams in a Thursday morning Facebook post. “We mourn the loss of life and grieve for the victims’ families. We then brace ourselves for the public punishment and collective blame for a crime we didn’t commit if the perpetrator happens to share a dimension of our identity.”
Shams added, “Though white men carry out the majority of mass shootings and ideologically motivated violence, white people don’t face collective criminalization when ‘one of them’ behaves badly.”