Fifty-nine people were shot in Chicago, including seven fatally, over the weekend in mostly poor, black neighborhoods on the city’s South and West sides.
But as the nation grieved over the mass shooting rampages in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead, the daily tragedy of gun violence in the nation’s third largest city – which recorded 42 homicides in the first 28 days of July – made hardly a blip with national news outlets and cable networks.
For anti-violence activists and social scientists on the frontlines of studying and combating the scourge of gun violence, it was hardly surprising that the national media all but ignored the bloodshed in the Windy City. Still, it doesn't sting any less.
“They’re all related,” said Tamar Manasseh, founder of the Chicago-based anti-gun violence initiative Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings. “Dayton. El Paso. Brooklyn. Chicago. We kind of separate this to our peril. It weakens us as Americans. It weakens our fight against the NRA and gun violence when you separate urban and rural shootings, suburban and street shootings," Manasseh said.
Manasseh said in an interview that the media too often treats gun violence differently based on the race of those involved. While black-on-black violence is considered "normal," white-on-white crime is believed to be "something that shouldn't happen," Manasseh said.
Moms were working to end gun violence: Then they were fatally shot in Chicago
Trump is 'inciting violence': O'Rourke slams media for its shooting coverage
In the case of this weekend's mass shootings, however, many of those shot or killed were minorities and immigrants. Among the 22 killed in the rampage at the Walmart in El Paso were eight Mexican citizens, Mexico's government said Monday.
Federal authorities said that they are investigating the El Paso shooting as a possible hate crime. About 20 minutes before the shooting, the 21-year gunman posted a four-page screed on the internet expressing his anger over the “invasion” of Mexicans into Texas.
Authorities have not yet determined the motive of the lone gunman responsible for the mass shooting that targeted a Dayton nightclub district, an attack that was carried out just 13 hours following the rampage in El Paso. Police in Dayton said six of the victims were African American.
James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston, attributes the difference in media coverage to the nature of the attacks.
"Death is different," Fox said . "Mass shootings in which there are large numbers of injured victims are certainly not inconsequential, but they do not reflect the same level of severity than ones in which significant numbers of victims lose their lives."
When is a mass shooting a mass shooting?
Two of this weekend’s incidents in Chicago met the standards for what the group Gun Violence Archive categorizes as a mass shooting: an incident in which four or more people are shot, whether they were killed or not.
Other groups that study gun violence define a mass shooting differently.
Following the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Congress defined a mass killing as "three or more killings in a single incident." The Congressional Research Service defines a mass shooting as "a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity."
El Paso shooting: How to help victims after the massacre of 22 people at Walmart
Dayton and El Paso: Guns used to kill dozens were legal
USA TODAY in partnership with The Associated Press and Northeastern University maintains a database on mass killings. That database counts every U.S. homicide – not just shootings – where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.
The El Paso and Dayton mass shootings were the 22nd and 23rd mass murders in 2019 so far, according to that USA TODAY/AP/Northeastern University database. The first 21 mass killings this year claimed 100 lives. The shootings in Texas and Ohio over the weekend added 31 more.
A total of 15 people, including one fatally, were shot in a pair of shootings in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood, on the West Side. In the first incident, seven people were wounded at about 1:20 a.m. Sunday when someone fired from a car at a group standing in a park.
A little more than two hours later in the same neighborhood, eight people were shot, including a 33-year-old man who whose injuries were fatal, as they stood outside during an early-morning street party, according to police.
“These cases are underreported in the media, and that has to do with the audience,” Fox said. “Most Americans don’t feel threatened by a gang because they’re not in a gang. But they are threatened by a random shooting.”
Gary Slutkin, founder of Cure Violence, an organization that fights violence as a health epidemic, suggests that the El Paso and Dayton shootings received more attention, because of their political salience.
Several candidates vying for the 2020 presidential nomination immediately blamed President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric towards undocumented migrants for stoking the resentments espoused by the El Paso shooter.
They also blamed Trump and his fellow Republicans for blocking tighter gun regulations. The party and much of the presidential field has campaigned for a ban on the military-style assault weapons used in the Dayton and El Paso attacks. Democrats have also pushed for tightening the federal ground check system and implementing federal “red flag laws” that would allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals are deemed a threat to themselves or others.
El Paso shooting: Baby shielded by his mother survived. His parents died
"These two out-of-the-blue events occurred in the context of the national political fight over everything – immigration, violence, race,” Slutkin said. “This is the difference between epidemic and endemic: Something that is always there is less newsworthy than something that is new," Slutkin said. "It’s a different syndrome of the same disease."
Manasseh cautioned the media and its consumers against "separating" violence that occurs in urban or rural environments.
Inequality in media coverage?
A survey of recent media coverage by The Trace, a nonprofit organization covering gun-related news, found that major national media outlets dedicated space and airtime to last month’s mass shooting in Gilroy, California, but largely ignored another terrifying shooting incident at community event in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, a predominantly African American enclave, that took place less than 24 hours earlier.
The incident at the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting left three people dead and at least 12 wounded.
The shooting near a Brownsville park left one dead and 11 wounded. While the Brownsville shooting was covered by two national news website homepages for several hours, the Gilroy shooting received an average of 14 hours on the homepages of six national news websites, as well as 20 times more broadcast time, The Trace found.
New York City Public Defender Rebecca Kavanagh took to Twitter to express her frustration with the lack of media attention for the Brownsville shooting.
There was a mass shooting at a festival in Brooklyn last night. One person was killed & 12 injured. Unlike the Gilroy mass shooting all over cable news right now, it happened in a Black neighborhood. So, unless you live in NYC, you probably missed it. https://t.co/hFXj1RP2b6
— Rebecca J. Kavanagh (@DrRJKavanagh) July 29, 2019
“There was a mass shooting at a festival in Brooklyn last night,” Kavanagh tweeted. “One person was killed & 12 injured. Unlike the Gilroy mass shooting all over cable news right now, it happened in a Black neighborhood. So, unless you live in NYC, you probably missed it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: El Paso shooting, Dayton, Chicago: Gun violence reporting varies