Terror attacks don’t resonate with millennials, but police shootings do

We’re not uniformly liberal. Plenty of the hateful Twitter eggs that have become so notorious and ubiquitous as of late are disaffected young people backing a different electoral horse. We’re also not attached to our phones 24/7. The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 people in their late teens and 20s are out-reading the older generations and look outside the internet for information. It’s also possible that the very word “millennial” may already be out of style. According to a report in the New York Times, I, born in 1995, might not be a Millennial but rather a member of a Generation Z.

So we don’t adhere as closely to stereotypes as some would like, and we’re certainly not a demographic monolith. But we are much less interested in the recent explosion in New York than we are in the recent killing of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, by Tulsa police. Mainstream media outlets seem to care more about other things: as I write, CNN is covering the election on TV, while their website’s front page features stories on the bombing and the (apparently newsworthy) end of Brangelina. MSNBC and Fox also show election news on TV.


Meanwhile, my social media feeds contain multiple stories, shared and reposted by my friend and the people I follow, including media professionals, on the Tulsa shooting. Quite a few of them come from media-savvy, youth oriented outlets like AJ+ and Fusion, and a video on the subject by AJ+ has over 1.7 million views. On Google Trends, search interest in the bombing is waning as interest in Crutcher’s death rises. To us, if not to mainstream news, the New York incident is old news. It doesn’t incite us as much as the shooting. But why?

It could be that we’re desensitized to bombings and explosions. Millennials grew up and came of age in the post-9/11 era, where footage of war, protests and violent upheaval has become commonplace. We see graphic imagery every day. The one in Manhattan wasn’t even particularly gruesome; there were injuries, but thankfully no deaths, and the suspect was apprehended quickly. The New Yorkers I follow on Twitter seem utterly nonplussed by the entire affair, even joking about more frightening daily occurrences, and even the manhunt felt uneventful, nothing compared to the tense search for the Boston Marathon bombers of three years ago.

In Tulsa, only one man died. But it was how he died – cornered by police, hands in the air – that makes the difference, and it’s the fact that his death is the latest in a thoroughly ordinary, deeply unjust trend of mortality that makes it more eventful than the extraordinary attack in New York.

We are used to bombings, but there’s something more shocking about seeing a man shot dead in cold blood by supposed figures of authority.

The shooting is also, sadly, more relatable to us. Young people are much more likely to be concerned about a random black man at a traffic stop than a botched IED blowing up a SoHo dumpster. It’s a random happenstance in an isolated, wealthy urban enclave put up against a regular occurrence of unconscionable, unjustifiable violence on a stretch of road that looks like any other. We, a more diverse and politically aware generation than the ones before, perceive what happened to Crutcher as a possibility for any black man in America. What happened to him could happen to your father, your brother, your friend, your schoolteacher – any black man. And it could happen anywhere, from Staten Island to the Midwestern suburbs.

We may not be a singular group, but to the youth of the United States, one man’s death means more because of what it represents than whatever piece of alarmism CNN thinks we want to see.

Markowitz is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of North Florida. He previously studied at Sophia University in Tokyo. Follow him on Twitter @DougMarkowitz

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