Several prominent black media groups have slammed a local Bay Area news station for running a photo of Nia Wilson—the 18-year-old black woman stabbed to death at an Oakland BART station—that they say is unethical.
The photo in question aired on KTVU Fox 2 on a noon newscast on July 23—not even 24 hours after Wilson was brutally killed at the MacArthur station BART platform. In the photo, Wilson holds what appears to be a gun by her face, the barrel pointing upward. The KTVU news team grabbed the photo from one of Wilson’s social media accounts.
The National Association of Black Journalists, along with the Bay Area Black Journalists and the Maynard Institute, condemned the station for its use of the photo.
In a joint statement, the groups wrote that using the photo “violated one of journalism’s core ethics: ‘do no harm,’ as it implied Ms. Wilson was dangerous.”
They added, “the use of the photo can be seen as an attempt to dismiss her humanity and silence those who view her death as a racially motivated attack. It was also in violation of copyright laws.”
Yahoo Lifestyle reports that the “gun” in the photo was, in fact, a gun-shaped cell phone case, making the use of the photo all the more egregious.
Wilson and her older sister were both stabbed in the neck by a white man, John Lee Cowell, as they were attempting to switch stations at the MacArthur BART station. Wilson’s sister, Letifah, survived the attack. BART police are still investigating whether Cowell, a felon who recently served two years in state prison for second-degree robbery, was racially motivated.
Depicting Wilson with the gun—implying that she, herself, had any history or affiliation with violence—could reinforce unconscious bias, the statement read.
The groups also pointed out that KTVU has erred before in its coverage of racially sensitive news stories. In 2013, the station’s coverage of an Asiana Airlines crash went viral when it released the names of four pilots on board the aircraft—the “names” however, were racist puns like “Sum Ting Wong” and “Ho Lee Fuk.”
“These incidents would appear to illustrate a lack of cultural competency and training around unconscious bias among station staff and leadership,” the joint statement read.
While KTVU anchor Frank Somerville apologized for the photo on Monday via his Facebook and on the 10 p.m. newscast, NABJ, BABJ and the Maynard Institute say they want to see more robust action, requesting a meeting with KTVU station execs in the coming weeks to discuss the station’s portrayals of people of color.