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A television station has apologized for running a “racist” photo of black stabbing victim Nia Wilson holding a cellphone in a handgun-shaped case, reviving the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, which illustrates media bias when reporting on black victims.
Frank Somerville of San Francisco Bay Area local news station KTVU posted an apology on his Facebook page Monday night, stating there was no excuse for the image, which falsely suggested to some that Nia, an aspiring singer, had criminal or violent ties. Somerville also admitted that his newsroom had a variety of photos to depict the late teen but “unfortunately” selected the wrong one.
I wanted to take a moment and apologize for a picture that KTVU showed on the air for several seconds today about the…
On Monday, paroled felon John Lee Cowell, 27, was arrested for allegedly stabbing sisters Nia, 18, and Letifah, 26, with a knife at Oakland’s MacArthur BART train station, reports the Root. Letifah survived her wounds; however, Nia died instantly.
“I looked back, and he was wiping off his knife and stood at the stairs and just looked — and from there on, I was just caring for my sister,” Letifah said, according to multiple sources. “I was in shock. … I didn’t know I was cut because I was paying more attention to my sister. But he just stood there, like it was nothing.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, Nia died calling out her sister’s name while Letifah told her, “We’re gonna get through this, I got you, you’re my baby sister.” And during a Monday night vigil for the teen, father Ansar Muhammad said, “It’s nothing imaginable, seeing your child on the BART platform with a yellow tarp over her body. That is an image I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. So I want justice. All I want is justice.”
BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas told reporters Monday, “In my close to 30 years of police experience, it was probably one of the most vicious attacks that I’ve seen.”
Since Nia’s death, many have attended rallies during which her music was played and her murderer has been called a “white supremacist” although according to the Root, Nia’s godfather said, “We don’t know if this was racist” in regard to the motivation. Some also tweeted that Cowell is a member of an alt-right group called the Proud Boys, a claim co-founder Gavin McInnes denied on Twitter.
On Tuesday, people blasted the photo of Nia holding the gun-shaped phone case, saying it misrepresented her innocence.
There are other black crime victims painted as criminals themselves. In 2012, when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin of Florida was shot by neighborhood crime watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, who claimed the black teen’s “dark hoodie” indicated he was “suspicious.” Suddenly, the hoodie itself was criminalized.
A debate also raged about various photos of Martin and Zimmerman, which suggested that either could have been the victim: Martin looking solemn in a hoodie and then smiling while wearing a red T-shirt. Zimmerman’s mug shot from a prior arrest and a photo of him wearing a suit were also published.
In 2014, after an unarmed black teen named Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Mo., by a police officer, a photo of Brown wearing a red tank top and reportedly flashing a “gang sign” was largely used instead of one that depicted his “gentle” nature, as described by friends. Outrage over the chosen photo produced the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown” involving people posting split screens of themselves that promoted “good” and “bad” stereotypes.
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