Debate over media coverage of the Buffalo shooting

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“What are we supposed to do with all this pain and all this anger?

It’s a tough question – hard to hear and even harder to answer. That was the question posed by a family member of one of the 10 people shot and killed in Buffalo last week.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news of the 18-year-old man who allegedly drove for three hours, looking for a black area of ​​town to target a grocery store frequented primarily by black people.

He did this, according to reports, because he believes in the “white replacement theory,” the idea that white people are replaced by immigrants and people of color.

It’s an idea some hard-right politicians and pundits have espoused in accusing US Democrats of allowing a group of ‘undocumented immigrants’ into the country with the promise of voting for them, supplanting power. blank votes.

It’s easier to say ‘undocumented immigrants’ than ‘black’ or ‘poor’, but those who hear the dog whistle know what that means.

Black and poor communities have historically had low voter turnout. If that changes, the power of the white and rich vote is diminished.

Granted, this young man probably wasn’t calculating voter demographics when he did what he did — but others have.

Ben Crump, the family attorney who posed the pain and anger question, acknowledged that fact when he challenged cable commentators who stoke white resentment, politicians who profit from it, and websites misfits that give him a platform, as reported in the Buffalo News, following a press conference held by Crump and the family.

“Even though they didn’t pull the trigger, they loaded the gun,” Crump said.

A young man’s decision to kill is his own, but “people who harbor hatred,” as Crump put it, played a role in shaping his actions.

I agree with Crump, but it raises a question that we in the media have been grappling with, particularly since the pandemic – what exposure to give opinions that not only make us uncomfortable, but in some cases we find repulsive or perhaps dangerous.

This debate is not new. In fact, this is the essence of John Milton’s pamphlet to the English parliament in 1644.

In defense of free speech, Milton argues that sunlight sanitizes, that bringing ideas, even really bad ones, to light in public discourse exposes them for what they are.

Even though Milton hadn’t heard of the “dark web”, he warned of the power of lies that take hold and spread when kept underground.

Obviously, the white replacement theory has not only circulated, but gained traction in certain dark circles, when many of us had not even heard of it.

Likewise, who had heard of incel before a man walked through downtown Toronto in 2020 mowing down as many women as he could find.

It turns out that incel, which stands for involuntary celibacy, is an online network of men who blame women for their own lack of sex and romance.

Crump is right, we need to challenge those “who organize hate”, but challenging is not necessarily censoring.

That doesn’t mean all is well. And I really worry about giving oxygen to ideas that really should wither and die.

But the question is not whether certain ideas should be censored, but whether censorship works or fails.

I don’t have the answer, but I’m looking because it’s incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to answer a family that so rightfully asks, “What are we supposed to do with all this pain and all this anger ? ”

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