North Carolina police have charged a neighbor with the murder of a five-year-old boy who was riding a bike in his own yard when he was shot at point blank range on Sunday evening.
Darius Sessoms, 25, was taken into custody by Wilson police around 24 hours after he allegedly approached Cannon Hinnant in front of the young boy’s father’s house at 5:30pm and shot him in the head.
Hinnant’s seven-year-old and eight-year-old sisters witnessed the killing, their mother told WRAL.
Sessoms lived next door to the family, and the killing is not believed to be random. Neighbors claim he had dinner with Hinnant’s father Austin on Friday and had been over at the house earlier on Sunday.
The motive for the killing is still under investigation, but a GoFundMe established by a family member says that the young boy rode into Sessoms’ yard.
Hinnant was white. Sessoms, a convicted felon, is black. As of this writing, the story has not been widely reported.
We do not know if race had anything to do with this killing, and we should not assume so without evidence. The Daily Mail reports that Sessoms and the Hinnant family had been friends. Maybe the adults had a falling-out, and this is how Sessoms sought revenge. Bad people do bad things all the time. Race might have nothing at all to do with this murder. Hinnant’s family said the boy had ridden his bicycle in Sessoms’s yard.
But we also can be confident that if Sessoms were white and Hinnant had been black, this would have been front-page news, and on all the networks, even without evidence that it was a racially-motivated attack. Angry white man kills black child who trespassed on his lawn serves the narrative the media prefers. I hope I’m wrong, but I bet we will not hear much more about this savage killing in the media. They will not want to know more about it.
In 2002, Nicholas Gutierrez, a 19-year-old gay man, murdered Mary Stachowicz, a middle-aged Catholic neighbor who asked him why he liked to sleep with men. Gutierrez was convicted of murder. Did you ever hear about this killing? Of course you didn’t. Unlike the Hinnant killing, the motive of which we do not yet know, Gutierrez admitted that he attacked Stachowicz because he was triggered by her criticism of his homosexuality. Nobody in the media cared that a young gay man murdered a middle-aged Catholic woman and stuffed her body in a crawlspace, because he hated her. Didn’t fit the narrative.
Matthew Shepard, the murdered young gay man, the circumstances of whose killing were later cast into doubt (it was a meth deal gone bad), is revered as a sainted martyr felled by hate crime. Mary Stachowicz, the circumstances of whose murder are not in doubt, is not remembered by any other than her family. This is because of the media.
Watch the name “Cannon Hinnant”. See if his name gets said on TV, in the papers, on major news sites. See if the media care to learn more about what drove a man to blow that little boy’s brains out, and if racial animus had anything to do with it.
Again, and to be very clear: we do not know the motive, and we should not assume race had anything at all to do with it. I am posting this as a marker for media coverage. I’m so cynical that I actually believe that our media want to gin up race hatred, as long as it goes one way. We are almost exactly one year from the date of last summer’s New York Times internal town hall meeting over race and its coverage. That was the meeting (transcript here) in which an unnamed staffer said to publisher A.G. Sulzberger and editor Dean Baquet:
I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting.
I think that staffer was wrong, but his or her assumptions sure do seem to have guided a lot of the reporting in that newspaper over the past year. I almost didn’t post about Cannon Hinnant’s murder, because I don’t want to inadvertently stoke racist passions when we might just be looking at a murder that, however heinous, was not a crime driven by race hatred.
Still, this is a test case for the media and its standards for reporting interracial homicide. I find it impossible to believe that the media would have been so quiet and incurious days after this savage killing if we had the same facts, but the races of the accused murderer and his victim were reversed. Does Cannon Hinnant’s life matter to The New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, CNN, and others? We will see.
UPDATE: A reader brings up the case of little Jazmine Barnes, a black child shot in a 2019 drive-by in Texas as she sat in her car. Jazmine’s sisters identified the shooter as a white man in a red truck. Later, though, police arrested two black men and charged them with the crime. According to this Vox story, police theorized that it was a hit gone wrong. Police said Jazmine’s sisters probably did see a white man in a red truck, but that he was an innocent bystander who sped away.
There was reason to believe that the killer might have been white, based on what Jazmine’s sisters said, but even if that were true, nobody knew any motive. That did not stop the speculation, faithfully reported in the media, that this had been a hate crime. Vox writes:
Activist Deric Muhammad saw a possible connection between the two cases. “What are the odds that two black families were fired upon by a white male in a pickup truck within a one-year time span on the same block?” he told the Houston Chronicle on January 2.
“We’ve got to call it what it is. Black people are being targeted in this country. Black people are being targeted in this county,” Muhammad said. “We are thoroughly convinced that the killing of Jazmine Barnes was race related.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Texas’s 18th Congressional District, which includes a part of Houston, also raised this concern, telling an audience gathered at a January 5 “Justice for Jazmine” rally,“Do not be afraid to call this what it seems to be: a hate crime.”
Later, though, a black man was arrested, confessed, and implicated another black man. Vox, being a liberal publication, defended the speculation:
Conservative writer Heather Mac Donald made a similar claim in a recent column, arguing that the Barnes story showed how “Fantasies about white violence against ‘black bodies’ are a distraction from what is actually happening on American streets.” That Barnes’s death was connected to racism and that speculation of a possible hate crime pushed her story further into the national spotlight, the argument goes, is further proof of how racism is incorrectly attributed to too many things.
But that argument fails to grapple with the very real fear and anxiety that led so many to speculate about a racist motivation in the shooting so quickly.
African Americans and other communities of color have repeatedly expressed anxiety about what they see as an emboldening of racism in America. These concerns of being under attack have been amplified further by FBI data showing a rise in reported hate crimes and high-profile incidents like the 2015 mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This context suggests that the initial reaction to Barnes’s death cannot simply be brushed off as some sort of mass delusion about racism. Rather, it shows just how powerful concerns about racism in America have become.
See how that works? The very public speculation that it was a white man who did it out of race hatred was justified, says the Vox writer, because those who made this leap were black.
UPDATE: In a. new Associated Press report on the boy’s funeral, Cannon Hinant’s father said that while he doesn’t know why the man killed his son, he does not believe race was a factor. Until and unless we have reason to believe otherwise, that should settle the question.