When horrifying tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing take place, media coverage after the event often compounds the trauma. Outlets shuffle to explain how someone could be capable of such a heinous crime by placing the blame on social factors whether it be their race, ethnicity, religion, mental health state or even preferred genre of music. The narrative blames that social factor just as much as it does the suspect.
I’ve watched coverage on the Boston marathon bombing on a variety of outlets today from Fox to CNN to ABC, and read online reports of the tragedy. At press time, one bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was shot after a chaotic chase and firefight with police. Another, his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is still at large. The story is terrifying and disturbing, and as such, the media is scrambling for something to blame.
TMZ posted that the dead suspect was heavy into hip hop:
The older brother who was killed and suspected in the Boston bombings was deep into hip hop, and it appears he belonged to a fan website that touted that genre of music. Tamerlan Tsarnaev has an email associated with the website, “Real-hiphop.com.” The site provides information about hip hop artists and upcoming DVD releases. What’s interesting … hip hop lyrics are notoriously violent and often degrading to women. Tamerlan Tsarnaev has a boxing profile in which he says he doesn’t take his shirt off much because he doesn’t want women to get bad ideas, adding, “I’m very religious.” This statement is significantly more conservative than the hip hop genre.
The suspects’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, went on air to say his nephews’ bring shame to all Chechens and to restore Chechnya’s image in the media:
He put a shame on his family, and on the entire Chechen ethnicity. […] This has nothing to do with Chechnya. Chechens are peaceful people!
The President of Chechnya, which is predominantly Muslim, blames the United States — not Chechnya — for shaping the bombers:
Tragic events have taken place in Boston. A terrorist attack killed people. We have already expressed our condolences to the people of the city and to the American people. Today, the media reports, one Tsarnaev was killed as [police] tried to arrest him. It would be appropriate if he was detained and investigated, and the circumstances and the extent of his guilt determined. Apparently, the security services needed to calm down the society by any means necessary.
Any attempt to draw a connection between Chechnya and Tsarnaevs — if they are guilty — is futile. They were raised in the United States, and their attitudes and beliefs were formed there. It is necessary to seek the roots of this evil in America. The whole world must struggle against terrorism — that we know better than anyone else. We hope for the recovery of all the victims, and we mourn with the Americans.
The common thread in this installment of the blame game, and the many others that follow these types of tragedies, is to underscore the assailant’s “other-ness.” No one wants to be associated with a mass murderer so people distance themselves by way of race, ethnicity, religion, music choice or place of upbringing.
This practice is a breeding ground for stigmas which leads to hateful and sometimes violent acts of discrimination. In that way, playing the “blame game” is dangerous. It preys on people’s fear and in their minds, justifies their hate. And yet everybody participates.