Scott Michael Greene, the Iowa man accused of shooting and killing two police officers as they sat in their patrol cars early Wednesday morning, showed a fondness for the Confederate flag, a disdain for police, and a string of clashes with law enforcement.
So it should have been surprising that, when it came to reporting the events that could possibly have led up to this horrific act of violence, The New York Times characterized Greene as a “troubled loner.”
But Greene is white, and, as we have seen all too many times, that’s the sort of thing white people who commit these sorts of crimes often get called.
As Fusion’s Nando Vila has pointed out, the media is quick to condemn shooters who look a certain way–like Orlando gunman Omar Mateen, who is Muslim–as terrorists, but were hesitant to use the term when it came to Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine black churchgoers in South Carolina last June Instead, Roof and other white attackers were characterized as mentally disturbed lone wolves. That’s the treatment Greene is already receiving. A Des Moines police spokesman told the Times, “We may never actually know what motivated this act.”
The Times’ deep dive into Greene’s personal life and past also includes neighbors calling him a “sad man” who had never before displayed such violence.
Yet the paper points out that Greene had very recently endured mental strain. Hours before the slayings, a court ordered him to move out of his mother’s house after she alleged emotional and physical abuse by her son. Weeks earlier, police booted him from a football game at his daughter’s school for waving a Confederate flag in front of black students. Despite these facts, the paper still tweeted its “troubled loner” update.
This kind of rhetorical disconnect was also laid bare after a deadly shooting last year at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood office. Media outlets reported again and again the bizarre details of Robert Lewis Dear Jr.’s solitary life in an isolated hut in the woods and his extremist, anti-abortion views, but quibbled when it came to labeling the shooting, which left four people dead, an act of domestic terrorism. The Times initially referred to him as “a gentle loner.”
In addition, it should not escape our notice that when a white man carries out a chilling act of violence, the suspect is very often taken into police custody alive, as Greene was. James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded dozens more at an Aurora, CO, movie theater, was apprehended alive and allowed to stand trial for his crimes. Roof was infamously given a meal from Burger King after his arrest, which police described as “polite” and “quiet.”
Meanwhile, unarmed black men, women, and children who have committed no crimes are routinely gunned down by the police charged with their protection. In that environment, labeling white murders as “loners” only serves to heap insult on a community still hurting.