On July 22, an 18-year-old Black woman named Nia Wilson was stabbed to death at an Oakland, CA, train station while traveling home with her older sisters. She was the third person killed on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in five days, and a 27-year-old white man has been charged with her murder. Despite an outpouring of sympathy and outrage on social media and a huge response from activists, Wilson’s death received little coverage on cable news.
Wilson’s murder, in which her sister Lahtifa was also stabbed and injured, inspired a massive response on social media, as well as substantial protests and demonstrations in Oakland. Both #NiaWilson and #SayHerName trended on Twitter following her death, and many people shared Wilson’s picture, details about her life, and artwork inspired by her. Writers and activists also drew attention to Wilson’s death, explaining why the story holds such significance in modern-day America.
Despite the powerful public response to Wilson’s death, and significant coverage by newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, cable news networks spent less than eight minutes covering her murder. Fox News devoted just over two minutes of coverage to her death; in one of their two segments on Wilson, the network initially misstated the name of the suspect and displayed his picture through most of the segment, but didn’t show Wilson’s photo or say her name. CNN mentioned Wilson’s murder four times, but only in short reports totaling about 2 and a half minutes. MSNBC ran only one segment that discussed Wilson. That segment, which ran on PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, was a lengthy discussion about the reality of violence against black people in America that lasted more than 9 minutes, but specific discussion of Wilson took only about 3 minutes.
The MSNBC segment touched on many of the topics that activists and other social media users had been discussing. Some people on Twitter suggested that Wilson had been murdered because she was Black, while others pointed out the disproportionate violence Black women face in in America, or noted the fear that people of color are forced to live with in the United States. Writers like The New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix further explained the particular poignancy of Wilson’s murder, writing that it “brings into brutal focus multiple American crises,” including the disproportionately high homicide rate for Black women as compared to white women, and society’s preference for a particular kind of victim, namely one who is “white, upper middle class, and beautiful.” As she explained:
The mourning of Wilson on Instagram and Twitter is a shrewd and agonizing kind of revisionism: the ubiquity of her smiling face reframes our cultural devotion to the innocent and beautiful dead girl, who has not previously been imagined as having brown skin.
Authorities are investigating whether the attack on the Wilson sisters was racially motivated and whether the killer can be charged with a hate crime, but they say they currently have no evidence to support that assertion. Members of Wilson’s family, however, believe that race did in fact play a role in her death. Her sister Malika Harris told The New York Times that the murder was “an act of racism.” Lahtifa recounted the attack to ABC7 News and told the station that “as young black women, we shouldn't have to look behind our back. ... We should be living freely like everybody else.”
Methodology: Media Matters searched Snapstream for mentions of “Nia Wilson,” “BART,” “Oakland,” and any iteration of the word “stab” on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC on July 22 through the time of publication.