In the moments following yet another horrifying school shooting at Townville Elementary in South Carolina, social media lit up with reactions — from those upset and confused that yet another attack on children could have been perpetuated in the first place to those criticizing the country's overall gun culture, which they believed had led to the incident and the countless others like it. In the midst of the chaos, however, one detail stood starkly on its own: According to police, the alleged shooter had been taken into custody, alive and well — information that was not lost on the scores of social media activists watching the situation closely. And in their minds, the mere fact that the Townville Elementary shooting had not immediately been labeled terrorism was proof of the wide gulf between society's treatment of it's white and minority citizens.
Update: In a statement to Romper, an Anderson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman confirmed that the alleged Townville shooter was a young white male who was homeschooled and had not attended any of the local public schools. According to the spokeswoman, the suspect was carrying a handgun and had shot and killed his father just prior to the incident at the elementary school. The suspect was apprehended by Firefighter Jamie Brock, a "30-year veteran of the Townville Volunteer Fire Department."
"Townville shooter is in custody, not dead, [and the] media isn't calling it a terrorist attack one minute after it happened, so we know it's a white kid," one Twitter user claimed, not long after. "Too true," another replied. "Seriously."
Initial details surrounding the incident were fuzzy, with some outlets claiming that at least one person had died (a report that later turned out to be false), while others speculated about whether or not a nearby death on Osborne Road was connected in any way. Even after it was reported that the shooter had been taken into custody, few details about the victims and alleged shooter were available to the public.
To be fair, Anderson County deputies did not immediately disseminate any details surrounding the suspected shooter's appearance — including age or ethnic background. At most, authorities noted that the suspect was a "teen" and nothing more. Anderson County spokespersons did not immediately return a request for comment.
Regardless, considering the manner in which the public has openly rebutted so many of its claims of non-discriminatory behavior — immediately claiming, for example, that the shooter in Townville must have been Middle Eastern, a refugee, or Muslim — it's not surprising that the other side of the aisle has stepped up and spoken out.
Recent events have only served to fuel their anger: In the past few months alone, several high-profile cases of black civilians being shot by police (for what many believed were unjust reasons) have made headlines and prompted further questions of use of force policies nationwide. On Sept. 14, 13-year-old Tyre King was killed by police in Columbus, Ohio, after officers responding to an alleged robbery claimed he pulled a gun on them. It was later discovered that the teen had been armed only with a "BB gun with an attached laser sight."
Earlier in July, 17-year-old Devon Martes was killed by police in Metairie, Louisiana, after reportedly aiming a 9mm handgun at Deputy David Dalton during a confrontation over the theft of "two pick-up truck wheels," according to The Times-Picayune While his mother mourned his loss, she did say that Martes had gotten caught up in illicit activities. She did not, however, justify his death. Regardless, the local police seemed to approach the teen's death with an air of callousness. "Devon Martes is not the victim," Sheriff Newell Normand claimed in a press conference. "The victim in this case is Deputy Dave Dalton. The victim in this case is the owner of the vehicle inventory lot that lost two tires."
Again in April, 15-year-old Jorevis Scruggs was shot and killed by police after authorities claimed he aimed a gun at officers during a chase. The official coroner's report later revealed that Scruggs had died of a single gunshot wound to the back.
In April, 16-year-old Pierre Loury was shot and killed by police after fleeing authorities. Police said that Loury's vehicle at the time "matched the description of a vehicle used in a shooting earlier," and claimed that Loury had "turned and pointed a gun at [officers]" prior to being shot. Reports stated that a semi-automatic was recovered by police at the scene, The Chicago Tribune reported.
Other incidents were met with equal criticism. In March, 16-year-old Robert Dentmond of Gainesville, Florida was killed in a confrontation with police; The firearm that authorities claimed Dentmond had been carrying at the time, however, was later found to be a toy gun, sparking controversy and prompting comparisons to the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed by police while playing with a BB-gun in a Cleveland, Ohio park in 2014. And in Austin, Texas in February, 17-year-old David Joseph was killed by police after officers claimed he was acting erratically and rushed an officer while naked. He was unarmed at the time of his death. "He was taken from us in an unexpected and violent way and (we) are struggling to understand how our child was stolen from us by the police," Joseph's family said, in a statement following his death.
The common theme among all these cases: The suspect was under 18 and black. Some were armed, while others were not. In each case, social media reaction was swift — a quick scan of any incident involving a black or minority suspect usually generates its fair share of vulgar comments and racial slurs, claims of terrorism if the suspect is anything but white. "Shooters of color are called ‘terrorists’ and ‘thugs,'" The Washington Post lamented last year, following the tragic Charleston church shootings (in that instance, the shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was white). "[So] why are white shooters called ‘mentally ill’?" When aligned side by side, the author noted, reactions to incidents involving suspects of color and white suspects could not be more different.
In a press conference on Wednesday evening, officials in Townville, South Carolina maintained that the shooting incident at the local elementary school was not related to terrorism. According to Rev. Kyle Caudell, the chaplain for the local fire department, and The Greeneville News, the shooter in this instance was "subdued" by an "off-duty police officer" and taken into custody, despite taking aim at and injuring two students and a female instructor.
From the few details given in the press conference afterward, it appeared that the suspect was related to the individual found dead on Osborne Road a short time earlier, a 47-year-old man named Jeffrey D. Osborne. According to officials, the alleged shooter was Osborne's son, though police would not disclose more details.
Whatever happens in the end, whether the alleged Townville shooter turns out to be white or otherwise, the harrowing incident has prompted more important discussion surrounding the varying degrees of force used from case to case, police training, and inherent bias — and all things considered, perhaps that's not such a bad thing.