On the surface, the cases appear nearly identical: Michael Brown and Dillon Taylor, two young, unarmed men with sketchy criminal pasts shot to death by police officers two days apart.
But while the world knows of the highly publicized situation involving 18-year-old Mr. Brown, whose Aug. 9 death in Ferguson, Missouri touched off violence, protests and an angry national debate, most people outside Utah have never heard of 20-year-old Mr. Taylor.
Critics say there’s a reason for the discrepancy in media coverage: race. Mr. Brown was black and the officer who shot him was white. Mr. Taylor wasn’t black — he’s been described as white and Hispanic — and the officer who shot him Aug. 11 outside a 7-Eleven in South Salt Lake wasn’t white.
The perceived double standard is fueling resentment and talk of double standards on conservative talk radio and social media, where the website Twitchy has compiled a list of Twitter comments asking why Mr. Brown’s death has been front-page news for weeks while Mr. Taylor’s was a footnote at best.
“Black cop kills unarmed white male #DillonTaylor in Utah,” says a Thursday post on Twitter by radio talk-show host Wayne Dupree, who is black. “#LiberalMedia can’t find [their] way to cover the story.”
A sarcastic Sunday tweet from Valerie said, “CNN Please! We need the name and home address of #DillonTaylor’s killer immediately. Why hasn’t he been arrested??!!!!!”
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From Mark Andersen: “Black cop kills unarmed white male #DillonTaylor in Utah. Where is @TheRevAl, @msnbc and @CNN? Is @DOJgov there? Did @BarackObama speak?”
And this: “People need to be just as angry over #DillonTaylor murder by a blk officer in Utah. He wasn’t armed!” said NeeNee in a Friday post.
Critics of the disparity in coverage and outrage said that it is actually the Brown case that is the outlier: Statistics indicate that black-on-black crime is far more common than the case of a white-on-black crime. For homicide, for instance, the FBI in 2012 found that of the 2,648 black murder victims, some 2,412 were killed by fellow blacks and only 193 by whites. (Whites also were likely far more likely to be killed by fellow whites than by members of other races, according to the data.)
Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh blamed the discrepancy between the two cases on “the liberal world view” that portrays whites as oppressors and blacks as victims.
“[I]n the current climate in the United States, a black person can never be the oppressor, and a white person can never be a victim,” said Mr. Limbaugh on his national radio show last week.
Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking at Monday’s funeral service for Mr. Brown, attacked local policing methods in the case and the militarization of local police forces, but also noted that American blacks also must learn from Ferguson.
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“Some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go,” the civil rights activist and MSNBC host said. “Blackness has never been about being a gangster or thug. … Blackness was, no matter how low we were pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”
Another difference between Missouri and Utah was that Mr. Taylor’s death didn’t result in riots. There were peaceful protests a week ago outside the Salt Lake City police headquarters covered by local media, but no outbreaks of violence as happened nightly on the streets of Ferguson.
CNN news host Jake Tapper acknowledged the disparity in coverage of the Brown and Taylor cases in the mainstream media, noting that the press often undercovers such topics as inner-city violence and the high rates of black-on-black crime. But Mr. Tapper said Monday that media “critics fail to see” that the greater context of a story such as the Michael Brown shooting, including the reaction it sparked in the St. Louis, in the black community nationwide, and with local authorities and the Obama administration.
National media can’t be expected to ignore the rioting that occurred in Ferguson, but questions have also been raised as to whether media overkill actually helped fuel and prolong the unrest. Some of the protesters arrested by St. Louis police hail from as far as California, Illinois, New York and Texas.
As with the Brown case, what provoked police to shoot Mr. Taylor is under investigation. Officers were responding to a report of a man “waving a gun around” when they confronted Mr. Taylor, his brother and his cousin leaving the 7-Eleven.
“South Salt Lake Police Sgt. Darin Sweeten said three officers gave Taylor verbal commands to reveal his hands, but Taylor failed to comply and was ‘visibly upset,’” said an Aug. 19 report in the Deseret [Utah] News. “Taylor was subsequently shot and died at the scene.”
Family members have said Mr. Taylor was unarmed, although police have not confirmed that. His brother Jerrail Taylor told the Salt Lake Tribune that Dillon was wearing headphones and didn’t hear police until they surrounded him.
Jerrail Taylor also said his brother may have been pulling up his pants before responding to a command to lie down on the ground when he was shot.
Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said at an Aug. 19 press conference that the officer, whom he described as “not a white officer,” was wearing a body camera. He said the video would be released after the investigation into the shooting had been completed.
“The officer did not set out to use deadly force,” said Mr. Burbank on the press conference video. “We have an unfortunate incident where Dillon Taylor lost his life. But I cannot stress enough that this is not Ferguson.”
Mr. Taylor was wanted on a $25,000 bench warrant “for a probation violation in connection with felony robbery and obstructing justice convictions,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune, although it’s unlikely that the officers who accosted him were aware of the warrant.
A post on his Facebook page four days before his death reflects his stress over the warrant: “im gonna have warrnts out for my arrest soon. ALL my family has turned and snitched on me. ill die before I go do a lot of time in a cell.”
Video shows Mr. Brown had just robbed a convenience store and shoved a clerk before he was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The officer, who reportedly went to the hospital afterward for an X-ray on his swollen face and eye socket, shot the unarmed victim six times.