Anchor Wendy Bell's Racist Facebook Rant Is Everything Wrong With How We Talk About Crime
It's heartwarming indeed that a journalist tasked with informing the public about important issues could feel compelled to share the following casually racist wisdom on her Facebook page.
"You needn't be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday," wrote Wendy Bell, a news anchor with WTAE in Pittsburgh, according to the Associated Press. "They are young black men, likely teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs."
Bell, who is white, was referring to a crime that occurred March 9 in nearby Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, where two still-unidentified shooters opened fire at a backyard barbecue and killed six people, all of whom were black. Bell was fired on March 30 for the Facebook comments, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"WTAE has ended its relationship with anchor Wendy Bell," according to a statement from Hearst Television, the station's parent company. "Wendy's recent comments on a WTAE Facebook page were inconsistent with the company's ethics and journalistic standards."
"They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs."
"These boys have been in the system before," Bell added, describing who she assumed the perpetrators to be. "They've grown up there. They know the police. They've been arrested."
Not a single suspect had been identified, by the way.
Bell's controversial post appeared on her Facebook fan page on March 23, according to multiple reports. Not long after, a separate page had been created calling for her to be "held accountable" for her statements.
Bell had deleted the original post by that evening, and issued the following apology: "I now understand that some of the words I chose were insensitive and could be viewed as racist," she wrote. "I regret offending anyone. I'm truly sorry."
It's remarkable how, in the wake of such a staggering tragedy — and in a single Facebook post, no less — Bell managed to both irresponsibly speculate as to the killers' identities without any evidence, and to collectively demonize all young black men, people with siblings from multiple fathers, people whose mothers work multiple jobs and people who've been arrested or incarcerated.
Considering the racial asymmetry with which America's incarceration system operates — locking up black men at incredibly high rates — the number of people who also fit the above profile but still manage not to become bloodthirsty killers is legion.
To top it all off, Bell also insulted the entire city where the crime took place, of which 66% of the population is black and 22% lives below the poverty line: "I will tell you [the killers] live within 5 miles of Franklin Avenue and Ardmore Boulevard and have been hiding out since in a home likely much closer to that backyard patio than anyone thinks," she wrote.
The pathologizing of American blackness is certainly nothing new. It often takes the form of coded "dog-whistle" phraseology, meant to hint at tropes associated with blackness without explicitly using racist language. Examples include when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) attributed "inner city" (read: black) unemployment rates to "a real culture problem" of men there "not learning the value and the culture of work" in 2014.
This kind of statement, along with the fallacious notion of so-called "black-on-black crime," ignore the systemic racism that informs both — namely that a pattern of anti-black job discrimination and that, in a racially segregated country, people tend to kill people who live near them, go much further toward explaining these phenomena than merely saying, "something is wrong with black people."
But facts can be inconvenient. When confronted with her own racism by a Facebook commenter, Bell reportedly replied that what she wrote wasn't "racism," but "realism":
Perhaps someone should tell her that it probably isn't "realism" if she made it up based solely on her own racist presumptions. Here's a full transcript of Bell's original Facebook post, for your reading pleasure, via FTVLive:
Next to "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times," I remember my mom most often saying to my sister and me when we were young and constantly fighting, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I've really had nothing nice to say these past 11 days and so this page has been quiet. There's no nice words to write when a coward holding an AK-47 hoses down a family and their friends sharing laughs and a mild evening on a back porch in Wilkinsburg. There's no kind words when six people are murdered. When their children have to hide for cover and then emerge from the frightened shadows to find their mother's face blown off or their father's twisted body leaking blood into the dirt from all the bullet holes. There's just been nothing nice to say. And I've been dragging around this feeling like a cold I can't shake that rattles in my chest each time I breathe and makes my temples throb. I don't want to hurt anymore. I'm tired of hurting.
March 31, 2016, 12:38 p.m.: This post has been updated.