The Black community in Oakland was on edge with strong concerns following the gruesome killing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson Sunday night. Residents had fears not only for their own safety, but also the media narrative surrounding the tragic death of a promising African-American teen.
The apparent lack of answers after Wilson, who was fatally stabbed the neck on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train, and her sister were attacked by John Lee Cowell, was frustrating. Cowell was arrested on Monday, but the revelation that the paroled felon was linked to white supremacists on social media was unnerving.
The combination of skin color, Cowell’s connection to white supremacists and the the horrific, random attack only escalated fears about a racially motivated killing and hate crime.
“I thought, OK, now they’re (white-hate racists) killing us in Oakland … ,” Eva Paterson, an attorney in the city and founder of the national Equal Justice Society, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It just feels like they’re coming for us. It’s not paranoid. It’s objectively just looking at what is happening.”
Wilson’s slaying has also highlighted lingering racial tensions in Oakland, a city that once led the nation in racial justice protests after the police shootings of people of color.
Another fear has also arisen: Black criminalization. The National Association of Black Journalists, along with the Bay Area Journalists Association and the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, have heavily condemned Oakland news source KTVU Fox 2 for posting a social media photo of Wilson with a gun. The exploitative image implied that Wilson was dangerous or a criminal as well as disregarded her as person worthy of dignified respect.
“The use of the photo can be seen as an attempt to dismiss her humanity and silence those who view her death as a racially motivated attack,” a NABJ release said. “Such depictions reinforce unconscious bias, particularly against people of color, who are over-represented in stories about crimes and violence.”
Rest in peace, Nia Wilson. A GoFundMe page has been launched for the teen.