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Odessa police refuse to name mass shooter, but issues of fame and race still play in the media

Odessa police refuse to name mass shooter, but issues of fame and race still play in the media
Police in Texas are refusing to name the gunman responsible for killing seven people at a traffic stop in Odessa. However, seemingly everyone covering the story has their own subtle agenda at play.

A rifle-toting gunman killed seven people and injured more than 20 others on Saturday. After blasting state troopers at a traffic stop, the murderer indiscriminately fired on passers by from the window of his pickup truck, before he was killed in a shootout with police.

Although the gunman was initially identified by media outlets as 36-year-old Seth Ator, Odessa police chief Michael Gerke said at a press conference on Sunday that he would refuse to name the suspect.

“I’m not going to give him any notoriety for what he did,” Gerke told reporters.

Also on rt.com WATCH videos of people fleeing & rushing for cover as Odessa shooting unfolds

Gerke’s motives may have been noble. Indeed, after every mass shooting, a debate over whether to publicize or deliberately ignore the shooter’s identity resurfaces, with some arguing that blanket media coverage only serves to inspire copycat slayers. Though the argument has existed as long as Americans have engaged in mass killings, it took on new life in 2013, when Rolling Stone magazine treated Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to a cover story, complete with a flattering, Jim Morrison-style portrait.

However, some commenters have accused Gerke of staying silent for more ignoble reasons. Ator is a white male, and some more racially sensitive online commenters claimed that Gerke was trying to protect his fellow caucasian. 

Mass shootings are a white man’s game, broadly speaking. The US Congress defines a mass shooting as a single incident in which three or more people are murdered, though looser definitions exist. Of 114 mass shootings between 1982 and this May, 110 perpetrators were male, 64 of them white, 19 black, 10 latino, and eight asian.

However, Black men shoot at random too. As Saturday’s tragedy in Texas played out, police in Mobile, Alabama, arrested 17-year-old DeAngelo Parnell and charged him with nine counts of attempted murder, after he allegedly opened fire on a high school football game the night before. Nine teenagers were wounded, and police publicly identified the shooter.

In media coverage of the incident, the same racial argument played out in reverse. This time, CNN was accused of concealing Parnell’s race while loudly proclaiming the race of the Texas shooter. “Why?” one commenter wrote, “CNN wants racial division.”

If Twitter arguments are to be believed, Texas police operate a Klan-style ‘good ol’ boys’ network to let their fellow whites off the hook, while CNN is run by a sinister cabal of manipulators bent on inciting racial hatred.

The factors that lead to a mass slaying are complex - access to guns, mental health, drug abuse, personal vendettas and grievances to name but a few - but what’s universal is the manner in which everybody spins, or is perceived to spin, these tragedies to suit their own agendas.

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