By Brett Gillin
Last weekend’s biker gang shootout in Waco, Texas left nine dead, over a dozen wounded, and nearly 200 facing criminal charges including connections to organized crime. While all of that is certainly newsworthy, there is an undercurrent in much of the media (both social and ‘traditional’) that is attempting to draw a straight-line comparison between the police response to the incident in Waco with those in Ferguson and Baltimore. The problem is, these comparisons don’t make much sense, and the lines they draw often stretch the truth, or ignore it altogether.
First, let’s examine the similarities between the incidents. Each of these incidents involved violence in one way or another, that much is true. Each of these incidents also involved the police in some way. And that’s about where the similarities end, despite what you may read elsewhere, be it on Facebook, NPR, The Dallas Morning News, or The New York Daily News.
One of the most popular memes that is floating around Facebook is this one, posted to the US Uncut page. It shows an image of dozens of bikers sitting calmly behind a police officer with the caption “9 people die in a mass shootout between skinhead gangs. No Mass arrests. No Tear Gas. No National Guard. No One Calling Them Thugs.” The meme, which has been shared more than 100,000 times in just one day, also carried the following as a post script:
“9 people died in a shootout between rival skinhead gangs in Waco, Texas today and gang members spent the afternoon chilling with police officers and texting. And Fredde Gray was killed because he “made eye contact”. #TwinPeaksShooting exposes #WhitePrivilege.”
NPR put together an article with dozens of posts from social media. The posts range from discussions of race and White Privilege to comparisons of media coverage between the Baltimore and Waco events, to race-baiting discussions from CNN commentators.
It’s pretty simple to discredit most of these points. No mass arrests? How about 192 people being arrested according to Waco Police? No one is calling them thugs? Tod Robberson of the Dallas Morning News uses that exact phrase in the second sentence of his editorial.
As for the lack of tear gas and the calling of the National Guard, that brings about a whole different conversation, namely, the role of police in the situation. By nearly every media account of the event, as well as that of the Waco Police Department, there were exactly zero riots (unless you call the actual event of two biker gangs fighting one another a ‘riot’).
There was no one taking to the streets to set neighboring businesses on fire or looting stores. Perhaps most importantly when it comes to the comparisons to the police response to Waco vs Baltimore and Ferguson is the fact that mass violence was not widely directed toward police officers, as it was during the Baltimore and Ferguson riots. The crime scene was secured, arrests were made, and no police officers were injured. Calling in the National Guard would have been a waste of their time and taxpayer money.
But let’s not let that get in the way of a good story, right?