AVENTURA, Florida –There were some early morning jitters at the annual gathering for Black journalists in suburban Miami on Wednesday morning after a fire alarm briefly disrupted the event’s first day of panels and workshops. But the nerves of those attending the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Convention here were quickly quelled when an evacuation was halted after it was announced that the alarm sounded because of some burnt toast.
Amid heightened worries surrounding gun violence from suspected white supremacists targeting minorities, the nation’s largest organization for journalists of color kicked off this year’s gathering as the nation was mourning the nearly two dozen deaths from this past weekend’s pair of apparently racially motivated mass shootings. It was because of that, NABJ Executive Director Drew Berry said — and probably because of the racist rhetoric and attacks on the media by Donald Trump — that there were extra security measures put in place for the organization’s signature event.
On Sunday, Berry sent a blast email to its members expressing his condolences to the victims of the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which took place this past Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Berry emphasized that convention security would be ramped up, a message that had not been sent to attendees in past years.
“We met with local police departments and hotel security staff two days ago regarding our convention security needs including concerns fueled by the racial climate and recent mass shootings,” Berry wrote in part. “The security team is putting together substantial plans that include both visible and covert security details.”
Multiple requests for comment from Berry, NABJ President Sarah Glover and other officials within the nonprofit organization were not returned.
The convention began on the same day USA Today’s headquarters in Virginia was evacuated because of a report about an armed person that ultimately didn’t yield “evidence of any acts of violence.” It was just another example of journalists being on alert in a culture of mass shootings. Among a host of planned events over the span of five days, NABJ was planning a presidential candidates forum that was set to include New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.
The preemptive move by NABJ seemed to make complete sense after at least 20 people were killed Saturday in El Paso by Patrick Crusius, who said in a racist manifesto that he was against “race mixing.” Less than 24 hours later, Connor Betts opened fired in the Oregon District in Dayton early Sunday morning, killing nine people, six of whom were Black. Though authorities did not immediately confirm a motive, social media users theorized that Betts was upset with his sister, whom he also killed, for dating a Black man.
Those shootings came about a week after Santino William Legan killed multiple people attending the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. Legan left behind social media posts that showed he may have been a white supremacist or at least sympathized with the racist movement.
The president’s open disdain for many Black people, especially journalists, was also another likely reason for NABJ’s precautions. Trump has used dangerously racist rhetoric that’s helped to embolden white supremacist extremists to target prominent Black people and especially journalists. The president during last week’s Democratic debates turned his attention to Don Lemon, who the president has repeatedly called “the dumbest man on television.”
Those insults toward Lemon may seem harmless, but another journalist proved Trump’s attacks on the media can create danger. Just last year, legendary journalist April Ryan, the 2017 NABJ Journalist of the Year, revealed that she was receiving death threats because of her coverage of the White House.
Despite the current events and racial climate in the country, one attendee said he wasn’t worried and that he believed NABJ officials would do their best to keep safe a segment of the community that perhaps would not have otherwise felt protected.
“With three mass shootings taking place over the span of a week, I’m a little on edge,” Victor Williams, a Cleveland television reporter, told NewsOne on Monday. “I don’t realistically see this problem going away anytime soon [and] unless something is done, it’s possible this could be a concern at all future conventions, [but] I’m confident in the planners of NABJ are taking extra measures to keep us safe.”