Virginia News Shooting: Updates & Thoughts

[Content Note: Guns; death; self-harm; racism; homophobia; animal abuse.]

Background here.

[CN: Video autoplays at link] This morning, WDBJ had a moment of silence on air for reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. Blub.

Vicki Gardner, the chamber of commerce executive being interviewed by Parker at the time, who was shot in the back, has come out of surgery and is reportedly doing well, although she will have a long recovery, after losing a kidney and part of her intestines.

* * *

A lot of the early news coverage about yesterday's shooting was wrong about a few key details: It was reported that the shooter, Vester Flanagan (also known by his on-air name Bryce Williams) was an ex of one of the people he killed, which turned out not to be true. He was, however, a former colleague of both. It was also reported that he had ended his own life, while he was still alive, though he had shot himself and later succumbed to his injuries.

Later in the day, and this morning, much of the discussion around Flanagan has been about his motivation for the shooting, which he detailed in a 23-page manifesto faxed to ABC News after the shooting. The document alleges racial and homophobic bullying at his former place of employment, but also reveals Flanagan to be someone with deeply fucked-up thinking: He expresses admiration for other mass shooters, and, at one point, blames his former employer and coworkers for his decision to kill his own cats in a forest.

Flanagan is (as per usual) being routinely said to have been mentally ill. But the usual suspects, who reject out of hand that hatred plays a role in mass shootings when privileged straight white cis men do it, are highly focused on reports that Flanagan "played the race card."

screen cap of news headlines about Flanagan 'playing the race card'

His former employer and coworkers say that Flanagan was difficult, and that he saw discrimination, based on his race and sexuality, that wasn't there. Other former black employees, like Pamela Mack-Brown, who "worked for 16 years before retiring as a production coordinator at the station," have been quoted as saying there were not racial tensions at the station: "There was no tension. No racial issues. We were like family. That's all."

Let me be abundantly clear: Workplace discrimination of any sort is not justification for murder. The end.

But because so much of the discussion around Flanagan is centered around his assertions of discrimination, particularly racial discrimination, I just want to address this "debate" (such as it is) around whether he was imagining racism and homophobia: It is eminently possible—in fact, it is likely—that there was racism and homophobia in his workplace, that he had legitimate grievances, and that he also fixated on things both real and imagined.

Ultimately, because discrimination is not (nor should ever be) a defense of murder, it's irrelevant to Flanagan's motive whether he experienced racism and homophobia in the workplace. But it's not irrelevant to our cultural conversation when we pretend there's even a possibility that a workplace in the US exists that is wholly free from racism and homophobia.

It's okay—and necessary—to hold both thoughts in our heads: That Flanagan may well have experienced discrimination, and that Flanagan was a troubled and troubling coworker who committed a terrible, vicious act of deliberate violence for maximum notoriety, for which there can never be any defense.

* * *

It's also okay, it must be, to talk about the fact that these murders likely would not have happened had Flanagan not had access to a gun.

And, no, I'm not saying he shouldn't have had access to a gun because he was possibly mentally ill: I'm saying that the average person doesn't need access to guns, period. (Not sorry for thinking the word "regulated" has a meaning in the Second Amendment.)

But now is not the time to politicize gun ownership blah blah yawn. It never is. Not in this country.

Our president, for one, is tired of that rule, and I am glad.

Discussing the shooting, President Obama said: "What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism."

That is a good place to start this conversation. If only the rest of us were willing to have it.

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