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Media and Police Response to Waco Biker 'Brawl' Spurs Critique

Social media response draws comparison between treatment of biker bar fight and Black Lives Matter protests

"9 dead, 18 injured, 100+ weapons recovered, and the gang is literally hanging out at the scene," Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson noted on Twitter. (Photo: AP)

"9 dead, 18 injured, 100+ weapons recovered, and the gang is literally hanging out at the scene," Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson noted on Twitter. (Photo: AP)

Sunday's biker gang shootout in Waco, Texas—which left 9 dead, 18 injured, and over 190 arrested—and the media storm that followed have highlighted a prevalent bias both in policing and reporting on such incidents.

The incident reportedly involved five rival motorcycle gangs, which began fighting inside local Twin Peaks "breastaurant" before spilling into the parking lot. Afterwards, roughly a hundred weapons were recovered, including guns, chains, knives, bats, and clubs. Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton described the aftermath as "the most violent crime scene I have ever been involved in."

Amid heightened scrutiny over police brutality against people of color and the recent spotlight put on killings of unarmed, Black men, the widely-circulated photographs of Waco police peaceably rounding up the mostly-white perpetrators drew immediate comparisons to images of unarmed protesters facing down police in riot gear in other places.

Other reactions focused on the aftermath of the shootout, compared with crackdowns in largely Black communities, or made light of what they saw as an inevitable police bias.

A writer for the blog Crooks and Liars noted Monday:

In Baltimore or Ferguson, police would have been dressed in riot gear with billy clubs after an event such as that. A curfew would have been imposed. The media would have been all over it. Fox News would trot out every conservative commentator they could to point fingers at those "thugs" who start senseless violence. We would hear about how the parents raised said thugs, and how they fritter away their welfare check on implements of thuggery.

Spurring even greater critique was the media coverage of the event, which observers noted differed widely from mainstream reporting on events involving Black people, where descriptors such as "thugs" and "riots" are often employed.

Set against a growing protest movement, which is calling for reform of what activists say are inherently discriminatory systems, spanning media to mass incarceration, the violence in Waco, Texas presented an appropriate foil. As Deray McKesson, an organizer with the Black Lives Matter protest movement, noted:

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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