An 18-year-old woman named Nia Wilson was murdered as she got off a train in Oakland Sunday night. Her older sister Lahtifa was also stabbed by the same man, but, thankfully, she survived. The next day, John Lee Cowell, age 27, was arrested. He has been charged with murder and attempted murder. If found guilty, he’ll be going to jail for life. But many people in the Bay Area and on Twitter don’t seem to think that’s enough. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that there was a growing sense this had to be a hate crime:
By early Tuesday afternoon, no one but Nia Wilson’s killer could know for certain why Wilson and her sister were singled out of the crowd, stabbed in the neck, and left for dead on a BART station platform Sunday evening.
But for many who mourned Wilson’s death, the evidence had already stacked up. The randomness of the attack, the rumored meeting of a white supremacy group in Oakland, and the races of a black victim and white alleged perpetrator all carried the trappings of a hate crime.
The trappings alone were enough. As soon as details of the attack spilled forth in the hours following the killing, the assumption by many on Twitter, many who protested, and at least one relative of the slain woman was that this was a racially motivated attack — despite statements as late as Tuesday afternoon from city leaders and investigators that such a motivation had not yet been proved.
One woman, Oakland attorney Eva Paterson, told the Chronicle, “It just feels like they’re coming for us. It’s not paranoid. It’s objectively just looking at what is happening.” At this point, police say there’s no evidence that’s the case. From SF Gate:
BART police have not established a motive for the attack, saying it appeared to be random. Police obtained video showing Cowell stabbing both victims in their throats before fleeing the station platform, prosecutors said…
Cowell ditched a backpack and his sweatshirt in the station’s parking structure as he fled, police said. Investigators later recovered the backpack and “several items with a name and date of birth,” police said…
Cowell, a transient with a long and violent criminal history, had been in and out of jail since turning 18, his crimes increasing in severity as he got older.
On Tuesday, Cowell’s family released a statement saying he has a history of mental illness and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia before living on the streets without treatment the last few months.
Cowell was released in May from the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo after serving a two-year sentence for robbery, records show. His family said he’d served part of his sentence at nearby Atascadero State Hospital, which treats criminal defendants and mentally ill prisoners.
This is definitely an outrage and a terrible trauma for Wilson’s family. Her sister is said to be unable to eat or sleep not only because of the attack she suffered but the loss of her little sister. This is quite literally every family’s nightmare. It may also ultimately turn out to be a hate crime. But at least so far, many people seem to be running ahead of the evidence.
We just had a mass shooting in Toronto in which an 18-year-old woman was killed. ISIS has claimed the shooter was inspired by their ideology but police continue to say there’s no evidence this is connected to terrorism. The case may turn out to be terrorism in a week or two. Maybe they’ll find something on the shooter’s phone. But for now, we don’t know that. And I suspect that people claiming otherwise would not be given carte blanche to say so by the media. And yet, plenty of people seem to be praising actress Anne Hathaway for her comments on the case which assume this was about race:
The murder of Nia Wilson- may she rest in the power and peace she was denied here- is unspeakable AND MUST NOT be met with silence. She is not a hash tag; she was a black woman and she was murdered in cold blood by a white man.
White people- including me, including you- must take into the marrow of our privileged bones the truth that ALL black people fear for their lives DAILY in America and have done so for GENERATIONS. White people DO NOT have equivalence for this fear of violence. Given those givens, we must ask our (white)selves- how “decent” are we really? Not in our intent, but in our actions? In our lack of action? Peace and prayers and JUSTICE for Nia and the Wilson family xx
Jumping to conclusions based on preconceived ideas about the motive for a crime is usually a bad idea, not something praiseworthy. In a few cases, the people jumping to conclusions might even turn out to be right. Again, it could be the case that Nia Wilson’s killer was motivated by race and if so we should know that. But until we do actually know it, using him as an example of racial terrorism seems like a bad idea. What if it turns out he’s a violent and disturbed individual hurting people at random, i.e. just like the shooter in Toronto appears to be at this point. Shouldn’t we at least wait for the facts before drawing conclusions about what this means for the big picture?