The mainstream media in the U.S. and abroad badly botched the reporting of the Dallas police shooting that killed five officers Thursday, egged on by speculation by police sources that a team of snipers was bent on avenging the killing of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana by white cops the day before.
Even after the Dallas Morning News changed its headline Friday afternoon to read, “Dallas sniper was loner, Army vet with stash of arms, bomb parts at home,” the article’s second paragraph said, “Four Dallas police officers and a DART officer were shot and killed in a coordinated sniper attack that followed a Thursday night protest.”
The incorrect sniper meme was repeated internationally, such as this headline from the British Mirror, “Dallas police shooting: ‘Black Power group’ claims responsibility for police killings and warns of more assassinations to come.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters, “there appears to have been one gunman,” Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, who had “no known links to or inspiration from any international terrorist organization.”
The team-of-snipers theory, nonetheless, was repeated in media accounts, including with police-attributed information that multiple snipers positioned themselves on elevated ground to triangulate and hit their targets. What had happened instead was Johnson, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, used armed combat shooting techniques from a position on the ground to shoot cops one by one.
In the fog of this domestic battleground, it is understandable that the police were not able to understand how one assailant was able to shoot nearly a dozen officers and kill five. But the message and framing that they allowed to get out and which was perpetuated in the media was the stereotype of a cabal of heavily armed black snipers launching a domestic version of a race war.
And it didn’t stop there. Other media reports claimed that the shooter was upset about the Black Lives Matter movement, which, beyond being a blurry assertion that makes little sense, was also wrong. The shooter was upset about cops killing black people.
The combined initial messaging by the police and press wasn’t just incorrect, it perpetuated racist stereotypes that are tied to the systemic prejudices and racial profiling in the criminal justice system that led to the unnecessary police killings that sparked this entire episode of grisly mayhem.