In the days since Stephen Paddock gunned down concert-goers as a sold-out country music festival in Las Vegas, media reports and the public have reminded people over and over again that this, with 59 dead, was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The phrase has been reported over and over again in the media, but it turns out it isn’t exactly true.
As high-casualty mass shootings are becoming more commonplace in the United States (just last year, reports were calling the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, where 49 people died, the deadliest in U.S. history), the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have tried to set the record straight for mass media, which apparently has a pretty short memory.
While it’s true the Las Vegas shooting is the deadliest in recent or even modern history, calling it the deadliest overall negates a history of violence in the U.S. going back more than a century and forgets hundreds of primarily minority victims of those tragedies.
“It’s important journalists do more than recognize this as a mass shooting, but… Journalists must also put the shooting into proper context with history,” Mekahlo Medina, NAHJ president, said after the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016.
The NABJ retweeted that statement on Monday as a reminder that no, the Las Vegas shooting isn’t the deadliest in U.S. history.
NABJ spoke out last year and advised on language associated with shootings in “modern history” —> https://t.co/QXb5GJrbU4 (good reminder)
— NABJ Headquarters (@NABJ) October 2, 2017
I was guilty of using this language in our story Mon., based on police. Thankful for this NABJ/NAHJ statement: pic.twitter.com/ac7m7nBd08
— Astead W. Herndon (@AsteadWesley) June 16, 2016
At least two other shootings in the last 150 years were deadlier than the Las Vegas and Pulse nightclub shootings combined.
In 1873 a mob of white men including Southern Democrats, former Confederate soldiers and members of the Ku Klux Klan descended on a local courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana where a black militia was standing guard protecting the regional government. Surrounded, the black militia never stood a chance and as many as 150 black men were slaughtered.
A white-led race riot in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917 left 39 black men and nine white men dead by official tallies, but most believe more than 100 black people were gunned down that day.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — before that, an attack on indigenous peoples in 1864 known as the Sand Creek Massacre left as many as 230 men, women and children dead. There was the destruction of “Black Wall Street” in 1921 when a mob of white men bombed and burned down the affluent minority neighborhood in Tulsa, Alabama killing hundreds of black residents. And the 1919 mass Alabama lynching that left 237 dead.
But as the same rhetoric started cropping up again following the Las Vegas shooting, NABJ Treasurer Greg Morrison insisted the issue wasn’t about race.
“It’s an issue of accuracy,” he said on an appearance on KARE11-TV in Minneapolis.
Even to modify the phrase and refer to the shooting as the deadliest in “recent” or “modern” history does it injustice, the NABJ argues, urging journalists to instead put the shooting in perspective for the communities it effects using historical and social justice perspectives.