On Wednesday morning, I woke up to an NPR news report linking the deadly weekend shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub with conservative-backed legislation regarding gay and transgender policies.
There was no proof of this serious charge, yet it was pronounced as fact.
NPR is far from the only news outlet making these claims. Headline after headline the past few days has made similar allegations.
It strikes me as incredibly sad that as a country we can’t come together to mourn such senseless violence without immediately pointing fingers at one another. It’s also dangerous to assume blame and motive, and the knee-jerk instinct to quash serious debates – especially ones taking place abut curriculum in public schools – is a threat to our freedom of speech.
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There is still much we don’t know about the 22-year-old suspect who killed five people at Club Q and injured 17.
New details about the shooter are emerging in court documents that could drastically contradict initial assumptions. We should admit that we’re still learning about this individual and what might have led to this deranged act.
Jumping to conclusions
It’s a deeply human instinct to want to understand what would drive someone to do something so terrible. And determining motive is an important part of the investigations into such crimes.
Jumping to conclusions, however, can only lead to deepening polarization. And the conclusion that many in the media and political universe leapt to is that “hate” on the right must have led the Colorado shooter to do this horrible deed. It’s a narrative that supports what many on the left believe.
That doesn’t make it true.
It has been only a few weeks since the brutal attack against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in their home. The same thing happened after that news broke. Those on the left quickly assumed that conservative rhetoric against Pelosi must be to blame.
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As someone in the business of words, I know that what we say does matter and that words hold power. And hate is real – but the tendency to stereotype and ostracize others falls on both sides of the political spectrum.
Not all policy discussions around LGBTQ issues, however, deserve the label “hate.” It’s a mistake to paint all Republicans (and parents) who may have concerns over what children are learning in school and how gender identity affects sports teams as perpetrators of hate and violence.
Blaming conservatives for violence
The implication of making that connection is to shut down debates in state legislatures and at school board meetings.
For instance, one NPR report about the Club Q shooting made this observation: “Just this year, more than 300 bills targeting the LGBTQ community have been introduced across the country, and candidates in this year’s midterm elections used hateful and discriminatory language when referring to LGBTQ people.”
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“You tolerate hateful language, it leads to hateful legislation and it leads to hateful violence,” Kevin Jennings, the CEO of Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, said in another NPR story. “This is not an accident.”
Similarly, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., went after Republicans less than 24 hours after the shooting, telling them to “connect the dots.”
But again, we simply don’t have enough facts yet to say with certainty what motivated the man accused in the Colorado Springs shooting.
In a social media world where news spreads like wildfire, journalists and politicians have a special obligation not to fuel false or uncertain narratives.
Otherwise, the hate and distrust that fracture our country will deepen. And that, sadly, may lead to even more violence.
Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques