After mass violence, do we remember the victims or the perpetrators?
A string of bombings beginning March 2 in Austin, Texas, terrorized the community. Of the seven explosive devices authorities connected to suspect Mark Anthony Conditt, three detonated in East Austin, home to the majority of the city’s black and Latino residents. The first three bombs were hand delivered to the victims’ homes, killing two men and injuring one woman.
Suspecting the attacks were racially motivated because of where the explosives were placed, local authorities began investigating the bombings as a hate crime, but they quickly abandoned that idea after the fourth bomb exploded in one of Austin’s higher-income, predominantly white neighborhoods.
As police closed in on Conditt, he used his final bomb on himself, detonating it while in his vehicle. Once the bomber was identified as a white man from a conservative background, a familiar debate reemerged: Was the Austin bomber a domestic terrorist or just a troubled young man?
Some publications described Conditt as “quiet” and quoted acquaintances who saw him as a “nice, young kid,” and even Austin’s police chief referred to the vicious bombings as a cry for help. In response to such a sympathetic portrayal of a serial bomber, many quickly criticized such depictions of Conditt, and rightfully so.
But what may be an even greater offense to Conditt’s victims is how easily their stories have been forgotten and how their communities’ fears have been disregarded. Many have already begun to pay more attention to Conditt than to supporting those he targeted.
Although authorities said Conditt’s motive is still unknown, his reign of terror in Austin has already deeply affected the city’s people of color. For more than two weeks, black and Latino families had to live with a constant fear of being the bomber’s next targets.
Certainly, the use of bombs to terrorize people of color is a familiar chapter in America’s painful history of racism. The 1963 bombing of the 16th Street church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the bombs that detonated during the 1921 race riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma, serve as grave reminders of past racist attacks.
Suspecting the Austin bombings were racially motivated is not far-fetched when the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting by admitted white supremacist Dylann Roof is still a recent memory.
It is important for the public to reject any sympathy for Conditt, but while fighting to hold the perpetrator accountable, we cannot be distracted from supporting the groups of people hurt most by his attacks.
We must validate the Austin community’s concerns, deny attempts to unjustly dismiss their fears as baseless when motive does not negate the panic the bombings caused, and we must continue to strive for a future in which such fears will no longer be a reality for people of color. The possibility that the bombings were racially motivated is enough evidence that people of color have already been targets of violence too often. We must fight even harder to abolish an oppressive system that invites such violence.
Part of denying any sympathy for Conditt includes providing a platform to celebrate the lives he took. Both men who died came from families with deep ties to the Civil Rights movement, and there was more to their character worth honoring.
The bombings’ first victim, Anthony Stephan House, planned to mentor youth this summer by providing them with successful black businessmen to look up to as role models. House, described by friends as humble and highly respected by those around him, wanted to empower young people in his community.
Draylen Mason, the second person killed in the attacks, was a talented musician and was on his way to college after spending years sharing his passion for music beyond Austin. Loved ones stated he was the “true definition of a friend.”
The Austin bomber should be remembered as the ruthless killer he was, but he is not the only one who deserves a place in our memory.