The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Did ‘whiteness’ save the life of the alleged Planned Parenthood shooter?

(Colorado Springs Police Department via European Pressphoto Agency)
Placeholder while article actions load

After Dylan Roof allegedly executed nine worshipers in a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., in June, police arrested the 19-year-old without incident, bought him a hamburger and later described the white supremacist as “quiet” and “calm.”

His peaceful apprehension echoed the arrests white mass murderers like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Aurora, Colo., theater shooter James Holmes, both of whom ended up alive and in handcuffs after carrying out mass slaughters.

Months before Roof’s arrest, meanwhile, widely circulated videos captured 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 22-year-old John Crawford III being shot and killed by police within seconds of authorities arriving on scene.

[Investigators search for motive in Planned Parenthood shooting that left three dead]

At the time they were shot by police officers, both individuals were playfully holding fake weapons, and neither had harmed a single person. Both individuals were not only young, innocent and black — they were also dead by the time the public learned their names.

For  some observers, the humane treatment that Roof, Holmes and McVeigh received from authorities versus the split-second executions of Rice and Crawford, highlights a disturbing contrast in how law enforcement treats suspects depending on their race. During moments of alleged crisis, critics maintain, police not only perceive white suspects versus black ones differently, but may also perceive the existence of a crisis differently.

Here's what we know about the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado that left three people dead. (Video: The Washington Post)

That disturbing contrast resurfaced again this week after two incidents that ended up fatefully sandwiched together. The first was a shocking video — shot more than a year ago — showing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, suddenly and without warning, while the 17-year-old appeared to veer away from police. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting.

Days later, photos of Robert Lewis Dear, handcuffed and calm, emerged after the 57-year-old stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing three people, including a police officer.

On social media that striking juxtaposition — one an alleged killer, alive and well, the other a teenager, innocent, but dead — produced outrage.

Using the hashtag #WhiteTerrorism, the tweets argue that attacks by right-wing groups in America account for a greater share of violence and domestic terrorism than attacks by Muslim extremists.

According to a study released in June by the New America Foundation and cited by Global Post:

Almost twice as many people have died in attacks by right-wing groups in America than have died in attacks by Muslim extremists. Of the 26 attacks since 9/11 that the group defined as terror, 19 were carried out by non-Muslims. Yet there are no white Americans languishing inside the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. And there are no drones dropping bombs on gatherings of military-age males in the country’s lawless border regions.

Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told CNN that some estimate the number of people “involved in some way with sovereign citizen extremism” as high 300,000 people, with around 100,000 people forming the heart of the movement.

Responding to those who suggested there’s a link between Dear’s race and his survivability, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police issued a strongly-worded statement on Facebook that referred to critics as “race baiting delusional ignorant fools” before noting that “all lives matter.”

“We here in Colorado do know the circumstances at the conclusion of the incident in Colorado Springs,” the statement said. “In yesterday’s heroic police action the shooter was given the opportunity to surrender. The choice to live or die was his. He chose to live, laid down his weapon, complied with all commands and peacefully surrendered.”
“What the race baiting morons who believe that he was spared because he was white fail to acknowledge is that just this year alone there have been numerous shootings of police officers where the suspects were taken into custody. Many of those suspects were persons of color. They were not executed. They were taken into custody.”

The statement has been shared more than 3,500 times.

MORE READING: Protesters shut down Chicago’s ‘Magnificent Mile’ in demonstrations over police slaying of Laquan McDonald

Why did authorities say Laquan McDonald lunged at Chicago police officers?