When a mass shooting occurs in the dead of night in middle America we get immediate and nonstop reporting and coverage, educating us about all we need and want to know. When a mass shooting occurs in the middle of a sleepy Sunday as most Americans are watching the London Olympics and the victims are members of a Wisconsin Sikh community, you barely get a warning interrupting the water polo semis.
Around 10 am Sunday morning, a gunman dressed in tactical gear and armed with a single handgun walked into an Oak Creek, Wisc., Sikh Temple and shot 30 worshippers, killing 6 — including a 10-year old boy — before police shot and killed him. Police are still investigating the motive of the shootings and whether there were accomplices. Police in New York City and other large cities started guarding Sikh temples to guard against a copycat attack.
Perhaps the worst part of it all is that there are growing indications that the mass murderer, Wade Michael Page, was a white supremacist who may have been fueled by what some say are growing sentiments against minorities, immigrants and others not considered “American.” Page reportedly had tattoos on his arms related to 9-11 and was a member of a neo-Nazi rock band.
The tragic incident comes less than a month after 24-year old James Holmes opened fire in a crowded midnight showing of a Batman movie and shot 70 people, killing 12.
The Oak Creek police chief John Edwards described the incident as an example of domestic terrorism and said the FBI will be involved with the investigation.
But for some reason, NBC News and other news outlets barely found the incident worthy of interrupting regularly scheduled broadcasts. There was much buzz on Twitter and among politics watchers “TempleShooting” became a trending topic and #Sikh trended US-wide.
President Obama issued a statement which in part said, “my Administration will provide whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation.”
That investigation will explore whether the shooter may have mistakenly assumed the Sikhs were Muslim. The religion, which originated in northern India during the 1500s, has about 25 million followers, mainly from India. The men are easy to notice because they wear a turban on their heads and beards, which is why some mistake them as Muslims. CNN reports that the first person murdered in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks was a Sikh — Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona. He was shot five times by aircraft mechanic Frank Roque on September 15, 2001. Roque is serving a life sentence.
Since then, the Sikh Coalition, a New York-based advocacy group, reported more than 700 attacks or bias-related incidents.
On Twitter, hours after the shootings, several started discussing whether anti-Muslim sentiments, gun control, the NRA and the gun lobby deserved some blame in the shooting. On the flip side, there were several openly using the racist term “towelheads” and tweeting that the fact Sikh’s are not Muslims is of no consequence. To them, they are all “un-American.”
Ignorance is unfortunate but the political vitriol and seemingly xenophobic antagonism towards “others” may be fueling some to perpetuate violence like what was seen over the weekend.
“Sikhism is such a peaceful religion. We have suffered for generations in India and even here…We’re all the same,” temple member Jaswinder Schandock told the Wisconsin-Milwaulkee Journal Sentinel “Everybody has the same blood.”
Sadly, however, that sentiment doesn’t necessarily guarantee equal interest.
“Imagine if a Sikh man had gone into a white Church and did this … just imagine the difference in coverage,” independent journalist and radio personality Nida Khan tweeted within an hour of the reports being released of the disinterested and insufficient coverage.
By this time, comparatively, after the Theater shooting, preliminary reports, talking heads and journalists had been speculating about the shooter, searching out more information about the victims to share with audiences and had been giving audiences round the clock coverage because they thought they would and should care.
There is a lesson to be learned about comparative media coverage of violence, and how it could be very different depending on the victims. It’s not as if this was random ongoing violence that ends the lives of hundreds of kids in the Chicago streets. We’re practically talking apples and apples in that both involve mass killings by a gunman.
But there is the realization that there may be tiers of Americans. Those who are foreign-born, of foreign parentage and practicing a religion foreign to many maybe just too foreign to warrant the same sympathies and attention from the media and general American public.
And now we wait. We wait to see if the various presidential campaigns will suspend events to mourn and whether we get empathetic descriptions of the killer and inside stories about his life as a misunderstood loner…. whether Americans will let this incident distract from their Tweets and Facebook updates on Track and Field, beach volleyball and randomness shared hourly as they did with the theater shooting….
I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.