Yesterday Vox’s Aaron Rupar posted a brief clip of Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Captain Jay Baker saying that suspect Robert Aaron Long had “a really bad day.” Rupar’s clip gave some of the context but his description suggested this was the officer’s “strange” personal description of events:
So this is the origin of the viral story: a Vox dot com journalist misrepresents a LE official's summary of what the suspect said to investigators as his own explanation.
How many people even bothered to watch this clip, let alone the full video?
— Cathy Young (@CathyYoung63) March 18, 2021
If you watch the clip, it’s sort of clear he’s talking about an interview with the suspect, but it’s also clear from the reaction to this tweet that lots of people didn’t get it. There were 38k outraged people quote tweeting this clip and many of them took away from it that the police were empathizing with the killer and minimizing the crime:
I have spent the day trying to find a way to view this objectively bc I’m a journalist. I realize now I shouldn’t have taken that time. It was what my gut told me it was. White privilege affords the kind of benefit of the doubt that BIPOCs rarely get. https://t.co/dqybrOUVFz
— Marivel Taruc (@mtaruc) March 18, 2021
Police offering understanding and extending empathy to the white male murderer instead of his victims is the system working as designed. https://t.co/yQfb2qPRP3
— Leah Greenberg (@Leahgreenb) March 17, 2021
A volatile, misogynistic white supremacist w/easy access to firearms heinously guns down 8 ppl; six are Asian American women.
A law enforcement officer sympathizes w/the murderer: “Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”
This is another day in America. https://t.co/aLej4DHSV0
— Dr. Hiral Tipirneni (@hiral4congress) March 17, 2021
Fuck his day. How is this a remotely acceptable explanation? Imagine someone describing a Muslim or Black shooter in this way. https://t.co/ZgVN2XwB2q
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) March 17, 2021
"He was pretty much fed up and at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did."
Atlanta police chief justifies 8 murders as an inevitable, understandable consequence of being "fed up", then empathizes with murderer's "really bad day". https://t.co/qDKzFIflID
— Justin Wong (@JustinWong) March 17, 2021
I’m barely scratching the surface here. There are hundreds more reactions like this to Rupar’s tweet. But as Reason’s Robby Soave points out, it’s not a fair reading of what Captain Jay Baker said:
The full video (the relevant section starts at about 13:50) makes clear that Baker was not providing his own commentary, but rather summarizing what Long had told the investigators. The “bad day” line was proceeded by a clarification that this was Long’s own explanation, as related to the police. Baker did not endorse it.
Nor did the captain endorse Long’s statement that the killings were unrelated to racism. He makes clear he’s relaying comments from Long. “He claims that—and as the chief said this is still early—but he does claim that it was not racially motivated,” said Baker. Again, the police spokesman is telling reporters what Long said, not applying his own spin.
There are reports today that the suspect had been kicked out of his parent’s home the night before because of his sexual addiction and “was emotional.” So it’s possible this is what Long was talking about during the interview, i.e. the events that preceded and probably partly motivated the shooting. Spokesman Jay Baker was trying to relay that, not sympathizing with the shooter.
But even some people who saw the full press conference were upset with what they heard. Robby Soave points out the academic who coined the term “intersectionality” was outraged:
I was speechless after watching that press conference. Thanks @divafeminist for laying out what was so bone-chilling about what was named (his "bad day") and what was not named-the misogynistic dimensions of anti-Asian racism. To reckon, we have to denounce every bit of it. https://t.co/lJZcQHa7xN
— Kimberlé Crenshaw (@sandylocks) March 17, 2021
The real problem for many seems to be that police are relaying the information they have rather than embracing the narrative the media and many woke activists want them to embrace.
Look, it’s entirely possible that this guy is lying about his motives. Maybe he was fixated on Asian women and targeted them on the basis of their race. If so, police will probably find that out from his browser history. But you can’t really condemn the police for not jumping to your preferred conclusions without evidence. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Even in cases where bystanders believe racial motives may be involved, hate crimes aren’t charged unless there is clear evidence to back it up beyond the race of the victim and attacker.
Today, Andrew Sullivan wrote about this dynamic of the narrative getting ahead of the news:
Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America…
We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex…
And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran nine — nine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an anti-Asian white supremacist hate crime. Sixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are…
What you see here is social justice ideology insisting, as Dean Baquet temporarily explained, that intent doesn’t matter. What matters is impact. The individual killer is in some ways irrelevant.
There’s no doubt this suspect is a wreck of a person who deserves to spend the rest of his miserable life in prison. It should be easy to get that result because he’s apparently confessed. But I’ve seen the media make these sort of “climate of hate” connection before and then seen those connections turn out to be wrong. They did it with Sarah Palin and the Tucson shooting and they did it more recently with Trump and the Capital Gazette Shooting in 2018. Then as now it was easy to assume the terrible incident was connected to some political message coming from a figure on the right (one the left and the media already hated). But in both those cases the shooter had a preexisting personal fixation on his targets and was not prompted by any partisan comments. You can’t assume anything here either.
Again, it may turn out differently. Maybe in a few days there will be evidence that confirms all of these suspicious about a racial motive. Or maybe there won’t. Until we actually know we should really hold off on any big conclusions.