Tweets About The Washington Mall Shooting Suspect

by Abby Johnston

Five people have been killed by a gunman who opened fire at the Cascade Mall in Burlington, Washington. You might expect those on social media to express concern about the gunman's whereabouts, any possible further threats that the people in Washington could face, or the families and loved ones of the victims killed in the attack. But no, Twitter is going crazy over the ethnicity of the Washington mall shooting suspect.

There is little known about the attack and the man who carried it out. Officials have released a blurry surveillance photo of the suspect, but have not confirmed his identity or any possible motives for the mass shooting. In a press conference on Friday evening, Skagit County Public Information Officer Sgt. Mark Francis described the suspect as a Hispanic male in his 20s or 30s, who was armed with a rifle.

Some Twitter users had already begun, before the man had even been caught, to link the suspect to the immigration debate, which has been particularly contentious throughout the 2016 election. Donald Trump has fueled the idea that many Hispanic immigrants are dangerous. Last week Trump met with a group in Houston that advocates for the victims of crimes carried out by undocumented immigrants, and throughout his campaign, he has continually doubled down on claims that Hispanic immigrants present a credible safety threat.

Many people weighing in on the shooting on Twitter evoked similar rhetoric:

That reaction is problematic for a few reason, chiefly because no one should be automatically feared by virtue of their race. But also, assuming that someone is an illegal immigrant just because they aren't white is disheartening. According to U.S. census data, there are 55 million Hispanic people in the United States, and it's absurd to to argue that every one of them is an illegal citizen.

Some Twitter users didn't accept officials' description that he's Hispanic, however, automatically assuming that the suspected shooter is — you guessed it — Muslim:

First, there had been absolutely no evidence, from officials or otherwise, that the suspect is Muslim. Even if he was Middle Eastern — which, again, officials believe he is Hispanic — there is absolutely no reason to immediately assume his religion. But still, some of the darker points of the internet are insistent that because someone carried out a horrible tragedy, they must automatically know their religion. This is exactly how we shouldn't react to a mass shooting, and this is exactly what perpetuates Islamophobia and racism.