So far, news outlets careful not to say Tulsa shootings were racially motivated

Tulsa World | NPR | Los Angeles Times

Maybe it's the Trayvon Martin case, or maybe it's just the system working as it should, but news organizations are moving cautiously on the story of this weekend's shootings in Tulsa, Okla., which may — may — have been racially motivated.

A headline on says, "Two arrested in north Tulsa shootings that claimed three lives." (Here's the front page of the paper.) The first line of Zack Stoycoff's story is: "Tulsa police have arrested two white men who are accused of killing three black residents and injuring two others in a shooting spree that authorities deemed 'unprecedented.' "

A few paragraphs down, the story quotes an FBI agent who says, "It is way too early to call this a hate crime." Indeed, the suspects were charged today, but not with hate crimes.

Cheryl Corley's report for NPR is headlined " 'Premature' To Call Tulsa Shootings Hate Crimes." A CNN email alert I saw didn't mention race until the last line: "Authorities are working to determine whether the violence was racially motivated."

One fact in this story is repelling a simple narrative: Jake England, one of the two accused shooters, is alternately described as white and Native American. A Los Angeles Times article quotes Susan Sevenstar, a family friend of England's:

"If anybody is trying to say this is a racial situation, they've got things confused," said Sevenstar, who described England as Cherokee Indian. "He didn't care what your color was. It wasn't a racist thing."

And yet some posts on England's Facebook page used racist language. (You can read an unbowdlerized version here.)

In March, the Associated Press updated its Stylebook to say that racial identifications of suspects "should be removed when the individual is apprehended or found" but "in other situations with racial overtones, use news judgment."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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