|Sara Mutschlechner and her killer, Eric Jamal Johnson.|
There’s a sense in which there’s not much of any particular interest in the shooting death of Sara Mutschlechner, a University of North Texas student acting as a designated driver after she and some presumably less than sober friends left a New Year’s Eve party in Denton, TX, at about 2 a.m. Yes, it’s horrible, and yes, it would sure as hell affect us if we knew the victim. But does it rise to the level of national news? Not really. There are about 40 murders per day in this country—that’s just the “intentional murder” stat—and whereas I’m sure Ms. Mutschlechner was a lovely young woman, there was nothing especially newsworthy about her, nor does there seem to be much special about Marine Corporal Eric Jamal Johnson, who has confessed to the shooting.
True, there’s the disturbing fact that the perpetrator was a Marine at the time of the murder (People magazine’s description of Johnson as a “former Marine,” which technically he was at the time of the confession, is a prime example of a literal truth used to intentionally deceive: he was a Marine at the time of the incident and of his arrest), and there’s the irony of Ms. Mutschlechner’s dying as a direct result of serving as a designated driver, attempting to protect her friends from harm. Those facets of the case, taken together, might move the story to above the fold in the Denton paper, and might even warrant a little coverage in Dallas. But the New York Times? That’s all about the fact that young Sara was white and a sorority girl. (This latter description appears in a lot of headlines and even more articles.)
True, the Times didn’t play up the black-on-white violence angle, although they did post a photo of Johnson. Other venues were less subtle. How about headlines like ”White Female College Student Executed By a Group of Black Males in Texas”? Or ”White College Student Sara Mutschlechner Shot in Head by Car Full of Blacks has Died”? The word “Negro” appears in more headlines than Curmie wants to contemplate. I suppose we need to rejoice that a different word beginning with N has been largely absent.
There is, of course, no indication that there was any racial motivation to the crime. Ah, but you see, the site wasn’t far from another shooting last year, and race was a factor in that totally unrelated event.
So the racial element race is underscored by racist bloggers (not news) and the story is likely not to have been covered at all had Johnson been white or especially if Mutschlechner had been black. But the bias and incompetence don’t stop with the racial angle. The Denton cops apparently declared the shooting the result of “road rage,” and the term was immediately pounced on by virtually every news outlet, including the New York Daily News, ABC, the Huffington Post, and a host of others.
To this description, Curmie replies with a single word: Bullshit. Road rage happens when somebody cuts you off in traffic, or drives ten miles an hour under the speed limit in the passing lane, or sits immobile in front of a green light because texting is important, yo. What road rage is not, is pulling up alongside a stranger, screaming at her that you want to fuck her, and then shooting her when she doesn’t respond the way you want. No, that’s something other than road rage. That’s male privilege and misogyny. To say that this shooting is the result of road rage because it happened on the streets is to say that Lincoln was shot because he went to the theatre.
Curmie turns to the commentary of a friend and former student, who makes the point extremely well in a Facebook post:
This should not be happening to anyone. It’s 2016. Aren't we supposed to have progressed more than that? A lot of “news sites” (I use the term loosely here) are painting this racially but guys of all races overreact to rejection far too often. This is a sexist crime. These men felt entitled to say what they said to Sara and her friends and when it wasn’t received the way they wanted, this man ended her life. Because she didn’t want the sexual advances of a stranger at 2 in the morning while she was trying to drive her drunk friends home from a party. This is horrifying and extremely disappointing. We need to teach our sons not to be like these men.
She’s right, of course. This is all about man believing he has the right not only to say whatever he wants to a woman, but to have her respond the way he wants. But only the violence separates this murderous little asshole from an all-too-prominent segment of the young male population in general. Curmie seldom goes a week without hearing one of his female students complain about having been catcalled (or worse) on the way to or from class or rehearsal. Curmie, needless to say, has never been on the receiving end of this kind of harassment. But the impossibility of attributing the testimony of all those young women to over-reaction or hypersensitivity… that moment happened many years ago, and the situation, if anything, is getting worse.
Yes, a black man shot a white woman. But if race factored into the story at all, it’s that we—not in Denton, not friends or family of the victim—know about the assault at all. And to call this a case of road rage is not merely inaccurate: it’s deceitful. If white privilege is what publicizes this incident, it’s male privilege that caused the problem to begin with. Let’s do something about that.