Domestic Terrorist: a title for people of color

Robert Kukla, Arts & Life Editor

Earlier this month, Mark Anthony Conditt set off a series of bombs in Austin, Texas killing two people and wounding three. Once again, a mass killing of people has occurred in our country and this seems to have become our new normal.

As these crimes become more frequent, a debate has sparked as to why the media chooses to label white people who commit these crimes mentally ill, while people of color are often labeled as thugs or terrorists. What makes a person a terrorist?

When the news of the bombs was first reported, officials refused to label Conditt a terrorist and instead considered him mentally unstable. According to The Washington Post, Malcolm Brady, a former assistant director for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives said, “This is a single individual that was more than likely mentally unstable about something, so he blew things up… He’s not a terrorist.”

Despite the media and official’s feelings that the incident wasn’t an act of terror, people in the community disagreed.

Nicole Hatter, a 42-year-old Austin resident, said, “I think it was terrorism what he was doing, maybe there’s a legal definition of terrorism, but for the average person, I don’t think it matters.”

According to the FBI, domestic terrorism acts are defined as, “Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature.”

So based on their definition, Conditt wouldn’t be considered a terrorist because there wasn’t a motive found for why he set off the bombs.

Terrorism is an act of terror where a violent act is committed towards a large number of people. It shouldn’t matter whether it was racially or politically motivated. Mass killings don’t have to be politically motivated for it to cause terror to a community. People are still being slaughtered and that still causes damage to a community regardless of whether the individual had any political motives.

There is a problem in this country where the word “terrorist” is linked primarily to people of color, specifically Middle Eastern individuals. In an article from the Huffington Post from Nov. 2017, it discusses the underlying racial motivations for whether a mass killing is labeled an act of terror as opposed to mental health. The article says, “When a mass murderer is a white person, which is the most common scenario, it’s nearly always framed as a mental health issue. It’s never terrorism. Terrorism is something brown people do.”

When I stop to think about this and reflect on mass murders that have occurred in the past, I notice how true this statement is. Omar Mateen, the shooter at Pulse Nightclub in Florida was labeled a terrorist.

Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernardino shooters were also considered terrorists.

However, James Holmes, the individual who killed 17 people in a Colorado movie theatre, was labeled as having a severe mental illness, as opposed to a terrorist.

After facing criticism and backlash for weeks of refusing to call Conditt a domestic terrorist, Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley changed his mind, according to NPR. Manley said, “I’ve had an opportunity to sit back and reflect on the impact that it had on our community, and not be centered and focused on the investigation and trying to put a stop to it, and when I look at what he did to our community, and as your police chief, I actually agree now that he was a domestic terrorist for what he did to us.”

Even though his reflection came after the criticism he received, Manley still took time to assess the situation and decide that the act was indeed terror. He realized that the incident didn’t need to be politically motivated for it to cause terror within the community.

While I don’t expect the FBI to change its definition of terrorism anytime soon, I do feel that city official and the media need to look at these events and understand that despite the legal definition of terrorism, it is still an act of terror based on what mass killings, such as the Austin bombing, do to a community.

At the end of the day, terrorism isn’t always going to be politically motivated and that shouldn’t be the basis for the definition. I do feel mental health plays a role, however that benefit of the doubt should not only be a privilege handed out based on the color of one’s skin.