Jazmine Barnes case: Barnes was killed when a white man fired.
It’s been nearly one week since Jazmine Barnes, a 7-year-old black girl, was killed when a white gunman fired into her mother’s car on December 30. As the hunt for the shooter continues, Barnes’s family and others have argued that the attack and her murder must be addressed as an act of racism.
On Thursday, the Harris County Sheriff’s office, which is leading the investigation into the Houston shooting, released a sketch of the gunman, who fled the scene of the crime. “We will not rest until an arrest is made. We are going to continue to search for this killer,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters.
The Sheriff’s Department also released surveillance footage showing the red pickup truck the shooter was driving on Sunday when he pulled up next to LaPorsha Washington, Jazmine’s mother, and opened fire, striking her in the arm. Moments later, Washington’s older daughter noted that her sister wasn’t responding.
”She said, ‘Momma, Jazmine’s not moving. She’s not talking,’” Washington told local news outlet ABC13. “I turned around and my 7-year-old was shot in the head.”
“It was not fair. It was not fair. He intentionally killed my child for no reason,” she added.
The search for the suspect is ongoing, and community members have been asked to come forward if they have any information about his identity and whereabouts. Meanwhile, Barnes’s murder has captured national attention. Shaun King, a writer and activist, and Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney working with Barnes’s family, have offered up a $100,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. And a GoFundMe account set up to cover the costs of Barnes’s upcoming funeral has already exceeded its goal, pulling in close to $60,000 in four days.
Barnes’s death has resonated with so many not just because of her youth, but also because of what the nature of the attack — a white man shooting through a car window at a black family — may say about the state of racism in America.
Barnes’s family has argued that the shooting was racially motivated, and local activists say that it’s possible Barnes’s death is connected to a 2017 shooting that took place just six miles away. In that incident, a black man, A’Vonta Williams, and his then-girlfriend’s grandmother, were shot after a man driving a pickup truck fired into their car. The shooter was never found and the case remains unsolved.
In regards to Barnes’s case, Merritt, the civil rights attorney, has no doubt that the family was targeted because they were black. “We want to emphasize the racial nature of the attack and that hate-crime charges are appropriate,” he told the Washington Post this week.
Though law enforcement officials in Harris County say they haven’t yet found a connection between the 2017 shooting and Barnes’s death, and have shied away from making any comments about the shooter’s possible motive, police say that they are not ruling anything out.
As the case continues to unfold, it’s clear that Barnes’s death has sparked new conversations about racism in America, and called attention to the specific ways it acts on black bodies — and black women and girls in particular.
Barnes’s death has attracted national attention
In recent years, a number of high-profile stories — ranging from unnecessary 911 calls on black people, to police violence, and the murders of people like Botham Jean and Nia Wilson — have brought renewed attention to the ways that racism affects black communities.
These stories, coupled with an emboldening of white supremacist groups, and an increased number of reported hate crimes, indicate that while racism and its effect on black communities is hardly new, how it is manifesting now is concerning. This fear is at work in reactions to Barnes’s death, even as discussions about the shooting qualifying as a hate crime continue.
The outpouring of concern and outrage from activists, the general public, and figures like Bernice King, NFL wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Ava DuVernay, and others in reaction to Barnes’s death is the result of the intersection of multiple issues. While anger over the possible role racism played in her death is certainly part of this, it is not the only one.
Jazmine Barnes’s death is also a story about black childhoods — Barnes, a second-grader who wanted to be a teacher and loved music, was killed at a time where research has shown that black children are often viewed as less innocent and more adultlike than their white peers, a perception that likely plays a role in how often they’re exposed to violence. It’s also a story about gender and the fact that black women are nearly three times more likely than white women to be killed in homicides, though violence against black women is not as often covered by the media.
That Barnes’s death has sparked such an intense reaction could be seen as part of a deliberate effort from activists and sympathizers to counter these trends. In many ways, reactions to Barnes’s death recall the swelling of public outrage over the death of Nia Wilson, a black 18-year-old who was stabbed by a white man at a BART train station in Oakland, California, last July.
German Lopez explained at the time:
One of the key concerns here is that killers of black people are often treated differently — meaning, more leniently — than killers of white people. This was at the front of protesters’ minds as they called for justice, due to a real worry that the killer here would not be caught without more public attention going to the incident.
The statistics bear out the concern. Wesley Lowery, Kimbriell Kelly, and Steven Rich recently reported for the Washington Post, based on an analysis of killings over the past decade in 52 of the US’s largest cities: “Black victims, who accounted for the majority of homicides, were the least likely of any racial group to have their killings result in an arrest, The Post found. While police arrested someone in 63 percent of the killings of white victims, they did so in just 47 percent of those with black victims.”
Much like Barnes, Wilson’s death caused considerable anger, especially in Oakland, a city that has been radically changed by gentrification as the city’s black population continues to be pushed out due to increasing housing costs. Nationally, Wilson’s death served as a reminder of the risks women who look like her face on a daily basis.
While covering Wilson’s murder last year, the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Felix wrote:
There is a blinkered symmetry to the way Americans have been taught to understand violence that is gendered and violence that is racialized: the victims of the former are white women; the victims of the latter are black men. The same violence, when visited upon black women, falls outside the recognizable parameters of victimhood, and thus fails to register.
Like with the still unidentified man who killed Barnes, there were calls for Wilson’s attacker, John Lee Cowell, to face hate crimes charges. But police and prosecutors argued that there was no evidence to support this claim, and Cowell was indicted on murder and attempted murder charges instead. The case against Cowell is currently suspended after a judge ordered Cowell to undergo a mental health assessment in December, and it is possible that Cowell will be deemed unfit to stand trial.
Should authorities find Barnes’s killer, it is possible that similar issues will emerge. While it is impossible to know what will happen, hate crime charges are notoriously difficult to prosecute, if they are filed at all.
For now, Barnes’s family is preparing for her funeral, and expressing hope that her killer will be arrested. “Whoever knows anything, please step up at this point in time,” Chris Cevilla, Barnes’s father, said during a Monday press conference. “Help me and my family get justice for my baby girl.”