Let's Talk About Race and the Orinda Shooting

18 min
A police car parked outside the scene of a mass shooting at a Halloween house party in Orinda, where five young men were killed. (Raquel Maria Dillon/KQED)

On Tuesday night, Orinda City Council met for the first time since last week’s shooting at a Halloween party that left five young people of color dead.

Orinda Mayor Inga Miller first read the names of victims: Tiyon Farley, 22, of Antioch, Omar Taylor, 24, of Pittsburg, Ramon Hill Jr., 23, of San Francisco and Oakland and Javin County, 29, of Sausalito and Richmond. She then asked the community to join her in a moment of silence.

Orinda Police Chief David Cook, who was in attendance, gave no information on a potential suspect.

The meeting then quickly shifted gears, to a discussion about regulating Airbnb rentals in the mostly white Bay Area suburb where the party took place.

By most standards, this was considered a mass shooting. So if it's not the number of victims that merits national breaking news coverage, what is it?

The Bay’s Ericka Cruz Guevarra talked with Abené Clayton, a reporter with The Guardian’s Guns and Lies in America project, about the mass shooting that wasn’t covered that way, and how race and class impact how shootings are covered in America. Here are highlights from interview:

ECG: Can you kind of contextualize for me this place where this happened? This city?

AC: Orinda is pretty close to Oakland, not far at all. It's still kind of a suburb outside of it. There is the KTVU article that, in contextualizing Orinda, was like, ‘Oh, it's this place where the median income is this, and Steph Curry lived here before moving to the peninsula.’ So it definitely has a reputation for being upper-middle class, which usually means kind of white. And even growing up in the Bay, I just knew Orinda was for fancy people.

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ECG: I guess, what role do you think that detail has played in how the media has covered this story?

AC:When you think mass shootings, there's a certain expectation in coverage that comes with it — that the focus is going to be on maybe three things: Who was killed? Who was injured? Getting those stories. What type of gun, where did it come from? And then suspects. I mean, the fact that it is like a quote unquote, quiet town, sure deserves a line. But the fact that it happened in Orinda is starting to kind of overshadow, or be more maybe newsworthy, than the fact that like five young people are, you know, dead, and their families are grieving. The fact that it doesn't really sound like [the police] have a lot of information, in my mind, is more newsworthy.

ECG: I'm thinking a little bit about how mass shootings are some of the most intense stories to watch unfold in the news, one of the most intense things to cover. And I remember conversations in our newsroom about when something should be considered a mass shooting. What is the threshold? And by many accounts, this is a mass shooting. This wasn't covered that way. Why do you think that is?

AC: Well, I think there are a few things going on. I mean, the most glaringly obvious is race and class. It's important to note that when it comes to mass shootings, I think the last time that there was a mass shooting that was covered just hugely and was all over the place and all the victims were black, was the shooting, I believe, in Charleston, with the man who ran up in that church.

I've talked to several people, and a lot of them think that in news media, we're falling into this trap of having a hierarchy of location when it comes to mass shootings. I kind of think of it as an implicit prioritization of where a shooting happens and how that location makes it more, or maybe less, newsworthy. There are shootings where multiple people are shot inside homes, you know. It could be like a domestic violence situation and four people are dead. That ain’t covered like a mass shooting.

There are situations in cities across the nation. I mean, most notably, what I've been hearing most about, it's cities on the East Coast [and Midwest] like Philadelphia, St. Louis, where in one night five people die, you know, randomly — people just getting shot on the street. That ain’t covered like a mass shooting.

So I think that this specific example in Orinda is just a real case study in when race and class, plus this hierarchy of location mix, this is kind of what you get: You get most headlines being about Airbnb policy, rather than mobilizing to reach out to families and tell stories about the people who are affected, the people who survived. It is troubling. And I think that the implicit bias ... is at play here.

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But I wouldn't say that's the entire reason why we see this coverage being different. But it is the most glaringly obvious one. And the fact that that is impacting coverage just like implicitly kind of says these lives matter a little less.

ECG: It seems like maybe even implicitly, it isn't just the number of people who die that's factoring into how this shooting is covered, but who died, what they were doing and how they were at this unsanctioned party, which is interesting when we consider what kinds of shootings kind of become our collective national tragedy.

AC: Yeah. And I think that points a lot to the need within our industry as journalists to have some best practices, and have some standards that we can abide by, because you open yourself up to people's subjective thoughts. If it ain't the body count then what is it?

Read Abené's report after the Orinda shooting here.

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