Ten years ago, people were running across parking lots in zig-zags, and they were afraid to go out in public. October marks the ten-year anniversary of the famously dubbed “D.C. Sniper” attacks, in which two assailants terrorized the city and other parts of the nation for 23 days.
The attacks were seemingly random. But it was later revealed that John Allen Muhammad had lost his kids in a custody battle and intended to make his wife suffer as a result. He believed that if she were simply murdered in a series of random shootings, no one would link the crime back to him. Muhammed enlisted an impressionable minor and Jamaican immigrant, Lee Boyd Malvo, to help carry out the attacks.
Much of the media and the public assumed that the D.C. sniper was a lone, white male. This assumption of race stirred a subsequent debate, implying that the mistake in racial profiling impeded the FBI investigation and led to more deaths. When it was discovered that the two snipers were black Muslims, the media largely backed off of its discussion on race in the killings.
Professor Angie Chuang, an experienced newspaper journalist and professor of journalism at American University’s School of Communication, specializes on race and ethnicity in the media. I sat down with her to discuss the ten-year anniversary of the D.C. Sniper shootings, implications of media’s rhetoric on race, and the concept of Otherness, which she elaborates on in her award-winning research.
John Allen Muhammed was executed in 2009, and Lee Boyd Malvo, currently serving a life sentence at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia, expressed remorse for his crimes in a candid discussion with the media this month.