As I watched the news late Wednesday night unfold mostly online about Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and killing of 9 people during a Bible study meeting including –Pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney, I had a multitude of thoughts and emotions. My initial thoughts were how history repeats itself. As a history major, I immediately thought of the tragic 1963 bombing of the historic Birmingham, Alabama 16th Street Baptist church where four little black girls lost their lives due to a bomb and hatred. As many may recall, that was among the first scenes in the movie, Selma. Then my thoughts immediately questioned as to why there were so few national media outlets initially covering the breaking news.
Some responses I received on Twitter about the initial lack of media coverage were maybe the media was waiting to see how the news developed since few facts were known. In the 24/7 news cycle, this was the most breaking news of the day and perhaps the entire year. Even though it was not initially known how many people had lost their lives, a church shooting should generate immediate non-stop breaking coverage. The juxtaposition of a church as a place of peace and calm and a shooting occurring there should have resulted in most media outlets to cover it immediately. And the fact that the Emanuel AME church has a rich history since its start in 1816 as a church that helped freed slaves, with one of its leaders, Denmark Vesey, made it all the more important. Vesey started a known failed slave revolt in 1822. Emanuel AME church is the oldest black church south of Baltimore. It was frequented during the Civil Rights era by Martin Luther King, Jr. And Pastor and State Senator Pinckney was a key legislator who recently helped pass the South Carolina bill requiring that police wear body cameras.
And so due to the lack of initial media coverage, I tweeted:
“Dear Media Outlets, #BlackLivesMatter and so should coverage of #Charleston church shootings.”
One would think the media would not need to be reminded. And while there were some well -meaning folks who tweeted back that blacks should not “make” this about being black. That’s the very point. This church killing is a hate crime, as announced by Charleston officials, and therefore is everything about being black. No black person is trying to “make” it about blackness, it is about black people. And I will go one farther—if the suspect were black who committed the same crime in a white church, every media outlet in America would have likely covered it non-stop from the very beginning.
Many persons were reminded of the 6 killings at the Sikh mosque in 2012 and how so few media outlets ever covered the killings in detail. It is as if minorities in America do not deserve the same coverage by the media’s account as white Americans. It is only when blacks are seen in a bad light that the media runs non-stop breaking news —as in the recent unrest in Baltimore due to the death of Freddie Gray. Then the media could not get enough coverage of what was occurring in Baltimore—ditto for Ferguson unrest too. But when blacks are the victims of crime and not the perpetrators, the main stream media seems slow to cover live breaking news as it unfolds. The shooting incident in Charleston occurred roughly at 9:00 pm. Yet, it was several hours later that many networks covered it. And this leads to the point that Black lives do matter. And Blacks deserve to have news covered just as if it were a black man killing 9 white persons. I can’t help but say that the media would have been running non-stop coverage if the reverse were true. So when people online say, let’s not make this be about being black. I say it’s all about being black. And therein lays the media’s problem.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She appears on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC, BET, C-Span, NPR, PBS, CCTV- America, Fox 5 (WTTG) and TV One among others, speaking on legal news and crime issues.