In the aftermath of the bombing spree that paralyzed Austin over the past several weeks, many have suggested that the race of the bomber and his victims played a role in the way the case was discussed, even by law enforcement officials. The bomber’s first three victims were African-American and Latina, and critics have charged that Austin’s collective reaction to the attacks underwent a change when later victims, who live in an affluent, predominantly white area of town, were injured. Even after the bomber, a 23-year-old white man, took his own life as police closed in, some charged that descriptions of the crime and the perpetrator were different than they would have been in the case of a person of color.
Austin’s Interim Police Chief Brian Manley, who has been praised for his handling of the case, has also come under criticism for referring to the bomber as a “challenged young man.” Manley told Texas Standard Host David Brown that the description came after Manley viewed the bomber’s confession video, which police have not yet released to the public.
“I recognize the criticism, and I’ve in fact addressed that in many public settings already,” Manley says. “I had listened to a 25-minute recording of the suspect, and all of his descriptions about his feelings and his thoughts, and it’s the word that I chose to use. In no way was that meant to diminish what he did to this community.”
Manley says the video does not provide a clear motive for the crime, but that it does include information that only the bomb-maker would know about the devices that killed and injured Austinites. Manley says releasing the video would give the bomber notoriety that he shouldn’t have.
“We don’t want to create the ability for others to try and follow in his footsteps… I have yet to speak his name publicly, and I won’t, because we don’t want to recognize [him] in such a public way, where others could use it for their benefit, what he did to our community,” Manley says.
Word choice came into play elsewhere in the bombing story, as observers grappled with whether the bomber should be called a terrorist, and whether his actions are domestic terrorism or not. Manley says that terminology matters most when it’s time to bring a suspect to court.
“At the end of the day, it really is a legal definition for the prosecutors to pay attention to whether or not they’re going to charge someone with a terrorism-related crime,” Manley says. “I think the community is interested just because of the definition of terrorism, and what counts as terrorism. I’ve been focused on the definition that is put out by the FBI, which requires a specific ideology.”
On criticism that the Austin police response to the first Austin bombing, on March 2, was muted, Manley disagrees.
“What you will see at that very first bombing incident, where Mr. Anthony House lost his life, is… standing with me at the press conference, both the ATF and the FBI,” Manley says. “And the comments that day were, based on what we know right now, we have no reason to believe this is anything beyond an isolated incident. However, we’re not making any assumptions.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.