Updated: Jun 15, 2021
In the thought experiment, Schrödinger's Cat, a hypothetical cat is in a closed box with radioactive material that may or may not have killed it. Until the box is opened, our minds consider the cat both alive and dead simultaneously, creating a separate reality from the actual reality. But, when we open the box, we see the cat is either alive or dead, ending that state of not knowing because the actual reality has been revealed.
On Friday night in Austin, Texas, a man fired a stream of gunshots in a popular entertainment district in the city, injuring 13 people, 2 critically. On Saturday, the local newspaper, The Austin-American Statesman, reported the tragic incident, but omitted the description the police gave of the shooter from surveillance video. The newspaper believed revealing the shooter’s race “would be harmful in perpetuating stereotypes” so they purposely left the public in the state of not knowing, creating a separate reality like in Schrödinger's Cat. Many people, and the media, in particular, construct the reality of an incident and determine their level of outrage based solely on the race of the people involved. So, the media will not disclose the race if they do not like the reality it would purport. They prefer the alternative reality created from not knowing.
The police still have not released the name or race of the police officer who shot and killed Ashlii Babbit on January 6, 2021. Why has that information not been disclosed to the public? We know within hours the identity of a police officer who shoots a black person. LeBron James infamously tweeted a picture of police officer Nicholas Reardon with the caption “You’re next”, the same day he shot and killed Ma'Khia Bryant as she was stabbing another girl. But when an unarmed white woman, a 14-year Navy veteran is shot by a police officer, no information is released. Why? Because they are creating a Schrödinger's Cat reality. As long as the public doesn’t know the details, the specific narratives cannot be written or dispelled.
What if the police officer who killed Ashli Babbitt was a person of color? Would that carry a different significance and write a different narrative than if he was white? Would that flip the script on the entire police shooting narrative that the media has been force feeding the public for years? Maybe the reality is that when police officers of all races are threatened, even by an unarmed woman, they discharge their weapon. Maybe that’s why they are not disclosing officer’s identity. If the specifics do not fit the broader narrative they are pushing, then the specifics must be hidden or overlooked because they do not want their narratives to be reframed.
We saw this in the Capital car attack that killed police officer, William Evans, on April 2, 2021. The media was instantly enraged because the attacker was thought to be a white Trump supporting insurrectionist, until he wasn’t, until it was discovered the killer was Noah Green, a black, anti-white, Louis Farrakhan devotee, and the story quickly disappear from the national consciousness. No broader narrative was explored. Likewise, on March 23, a man shot and killed 10 people in a Boulder, Colorado grocery store. Outrage burned through social media immediately because the shooter was initially assumed to be white, and therefore the narrative of pervasive white supremacy threats could be promulgated. But when it was determined that the shooter was Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, a Muslim immigrant, the outrage about these 10 murders dropped off the front page into oblivion.
This is the end result of hate crimes legislation. When our legal system uses the race of the assailant and the race of the victim to determine the severity of the crime and the subsequent punishment, a multi-tiered criminal justice system is created, one that discriminates against some and prefers others based solely on their skin color. And the media has adopted this way of looking at crime by allowing race to determine the story they write.
All assailants should be treated the same because all victims received the same fate. The shooting in Austin does not have two possible distinct realities with different levels of tragedy depending on the race of the shooter which get blurred if the race is not disclose by the media. There is one tragic reality of that shooting, 13 people were injured, 2 critically, and that reality does not become less or more tragic when we find out the race of the shooter. Incidents like these should be viewed as individual occurrences with their own unique and complex causes, and therefore meanings.
These tragedies are not indicative of a larger narrative about race in this country that too many people want to attach to them. In a country of 350+ million people, the action of one person, or the actions of a handful of people, are not telling of anything about a specific group, or even about the population at large, other than there are 350 million other people who didn’t commit a mass shooting. These incidents are far more isolated and random than the media wants to characterize them as because they want to be able to continue to use them to push their broader agendas. If we only see the world through the lens of race, we will get a distorted picture of reality, causing us to promote dangerous and harmful narratives that only further divide us. But if we can look at tragic incidents like these, and see the common humanity in all of us, they can be used as touchstones to unite us.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He is a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.