hate crime

Is it a hate crime? Washington Post offers strong coverage of Muslim girl's D.C.-area slaying

Is it a hate crime? Washington Post offers strong coverage of Muslim girl's D.C.-area slaying

Is it a hate crime?

That's a key question after the slaying of a 17-year-old Muslim girl in the Washington, D.C., area.

Regardless of the motivation, of course, the death of Nabra Hassanen is an unspeakable tragedy. My daughter is 17, and I can't help but identify with what the local sheriff told the Washington Post:

“I can’t think of a worse instance to occur than the loss of a 17-year-old on Father’s Day, as the father of a 17-year-old myself,” Loudoun County Sheriff Michael L. Chapman said

From the beginning, the Post has offered strong, insightful coverage of the murder case — boosted in large part by the expertise of the newspaper's stellar religion reporters, including Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a former GetReligionista.

That coverage has included excellent, factual stories (examples here, here and here) updating readers on the police investigation as well as how the victim's family and friends are handling the loss:

The Virginia teens were up late observing Ramadan, so they did what young people often do in the wee hours of the weekend: They went out for a bite to eat at McDonald’s.
But as they walked and biked back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in Sterling, along a major thoroughfare, a red car approached from behind about 3:40 a.m. Sunday and chaos erupted.
The driver, Darwin Martinez Torres, a 22-year-old construction worker from Sterling, got into an argument with a teen on a bike and then drove his car over a curb, scattering the group of as many as 15 teens, police said. He caught up with them a short time later in a parking lot and chased them with a baseball bat, striking 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen and then abducting her in his car, police said.
Martinez Torres assaulted Nabra a second time, in Loudoun County, before dumping her body in a pond next to his apartment complex, where it was discovered about 3 p.m. on Sunday, police said. The medical examiner ruled Monday that the girl died of blunt-force trauma to the head and neck.
The horrific slaying of the South Lakes High School student reverberated beyond Virginia on Monday, as social media lit up with anger and grief, politicians expressed condolences and groups of various faiths condemned the violence. Many feared it was another hate crime targeting Muslims, coming shortly before a man driving a truck in London plowed into a group of people who had just finished Ramadan prayers. It follows a national upswing in attacks targeting Muslims since the November election.
So far, Fairfax County police said they have no indication that Nabra was targeted because of her religion, saying her killing was probably a “road rage incident,” although they continue to investigate the motivation.

Beyond the straight-news stories, though, the Post has supplemented its coverage with pieces such as Bailey's overview of "What happens when tragedy strikes Muslims during Ramadan."

This is a case where, obviously, it helps to have a Godbeat pro — or in the case of the Post, more than one — on the team:

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Media report a spike in anti-Muslim crime since San Bernardino — where's the hard data?

Media report a spike in anti-Muslim crime since San Bernardino — where's the hard data?

If you follow the news, you've probably seen a headline or two — or 50 — proclaiming that anti-Muslim crime has spiked since the San Bernardino massacre. Similar reports followed the Paris attacks.

The narrative of a backlash against Muslims makes sense, of course, given the Islamic extremist ties to last week's California massacre and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's strong rhetoric.

But from a journalistic perspective, where is the hard data? 

As #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches trended on Twitter back in July, we urged caution in the reporting:

A half-dozen church fires in such a short period sounds like a lot. But is it really? Journalists must be sure to put the fires — and the number of them — in context.

A similar dose of discretion would seem appropriate in the case of anti-Muslim incidents.

Instead, many journalists seem to be quite comfortable equating anecdotal evidence with a solid trend.

Take the Los Angeles Times, for instance:

Attacks on mosques appear to have become more frequent and threats against Muslims more menacing since the terrorist attacks in Paris and the shooting in San Bernardino.
“A pigs head at a mosque in Philadelphia, a girl harassed at a school in New York, hate mail sent to a New Jersey mosque … I can’t event count the amount of hate mail and threats we have received,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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#CharlestonShooting: Five key angles on the massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina

#CharlestonShooting: Five key angles on the massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina

As we follow ongoing developments in Charleston, S.C., here are five key angles that caught our attention in the last 24 hours:

1. The tip

"I LOVE this story," said GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway. In an email, she told me that it "gets religion." Hey, that's what we're all about!

Kudos to the Shelby Star in Cleveland County, N.C., for reflecting the religion angle in its scoop:

Debbie Dills was running behind Thursday on her way into work at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain.
It was God’s way of putting her in the right place at the right time, the Gastonia woman said.
Dills and her boss, Todd Frady, made the initial calls around 10:35 a.m. that led to the arrest of suspected Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof in Shelby. 

Later in the story, Dills talks more about her faith:

Dills, the minister of music at West Cramerton Baptist Church, said she had been praying for the victims in Charleston since the news broke last night.
“I was in church last night myself. I had seen the news coverage before I went to bed and started praying for those families down there," she said. "Those people were in their church just trying to learn the word of God and trying to serve. When I saw a picture of that pastor this morning, my heart just sank."

The Shelby Star deserves credit for allowing Dills to tell the story in her own words — including the religious angle.

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Tragedy in Charleston: Basic facts crucial in reporting on shooting deaths of nine at historic black church

Tragedy in Charleston: Basic facts crucial in reporting on shooting deaths of nine at historic black church

The headlines bombard us this morning as we — like you — try to make sense of what just happened in Charleston, S.C.

At the early stage of reporting on a tragedy such as this, it's always crucial that news reports focus on basic facts and avoid conjecture. 

The Wall Street Journal has this rundown of what's known so far:

Nine people were killed after a white man opened fire Wednesday night at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. in what police described as a “hate crime,” and police are still searching for the suspect.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said Thursday morning the suspect, a white male in his early 20s, is still at large. Local police are working with state and federal authorities to capture the suspect, who is thought to have sat for up to an hour in the church with those attending a prayer meeting before opening fire, Mr. Mullen said.
“This is a situation that is unacceptable in any society, and especially in our society, in our city,” Mr. Mullen said during a news conference. “We are committed to do whatever is needed to bring this individual to justice.”
Police are receiving tips but don’t have any solid leads about who the suspect is, Mr. Mullen said. He urged the public not to approach the suspect and to be vigilant, and if they see anything suspicious to immediately contact authorities. 

"Historic black church" is, of course, the terminology being used by most of the media to describe the location of the shooting — and that description certainly seems accurate and appropriate.

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