It’s been nearly one week since Jazmine Barnes, a 7-year-old black girl, was killed when a white gunman fired into her mother’s car on December 30. As the hunt for the shooter continues, Barnes’s family and others have argued that the attack and her murder must be addressed as an act of racism.
On Thursday, the Harris County Sheriff’s office, which is leading the investigation into the Houston shooting, released a sketch of the gunman, who fled the scene of the crime. “We will not rest until an arrest is made. We are going to continue to search for this killer,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters.
The Sheriff’s Department also released surveillance footage showing the red pickup truck the shooter was driving on Sunday when he pulled up next to LaPorsha Washington, Jazmine’s mother, and opened fire, striking her in the arm. Moments later, Washington’s older daughter noted that her sister wasn’t responding.
”She said, ‘Momma, Jazmine’s not moving. She’s not talking,’” Washington told local news outlet ABC13. “I turned around and my 7-year-old was shot in the head.”
“It was not fair. It was not fair. He intentionally killed my child for no reason,” she added.
The search for the suspect is ongoing, and community members have been asked to come forward if they have any information about his identity and whereabouts. Meanwhile, Barnes’s murder has captured national attention. Shaun King, a writer and activist, and Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney working with Barnes’s family, have offered up a $100,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. And a GoFundMe account set up to cover the costs of Barnes’s upcoming funeral has already exceeded its goal, pulling in close to $60,000 in four days.
Barnes’s death has resonated with so many not just because of her youth, but also because of what the nature of the attack — a white man shooting through a car window at a black family — may say about the state of racism in America.
Barnes’s family has argued that the shooting was racially motivated, and local activists say that it’s possible Barnes’s death is connected to a 2017 shooting that took place just six miles away. In that incident, a black man, A’Vonta Williams, and his then-girlfriend’s grandmother, were shot after a man driving a pickup truck fired into their car. The shooter was never found and the case remains unsolved.
In regards to Barnes’s case, Merritt, the civil rights attorney, has no doubt that the family was targeted because they were black. “We want to emphasize the racial nature of the attack and that hate-crime charges are appropriate,” he told the Washington Post this week.
Though law enforcement officials in Harris County say they haven’t yet found a connection between the 2017 shooting and Barnes’s death, and have shied away from making any comments about the shooter’s possible motive, police say that they are not ruling anything out.
As the case continues to unfold, it’s clear that Barnes’s death has sparked new conversations about racism in America, and called attention to the specific ways it acts on black bodies — and black women and girls in particular.
Barnes’s death has attracted national attention
In recent years, a number of high-profile stories — ranging from unnecessary 911 calls on black people, to police violence, and the murders of people like Botham Jean and Nia Wilson — have brought renewed attention to the ways that racism affects black communities.
These stories, coupled with an emboldening of white supremacist groups, and an increased number of reported hate crimes, indicate that while racism and its effect on black communities is hardly new, how it is manifesting now is concerning. This fear is at work in reactions to Barnes’s death, even as discussions about the shooting qualifying as a hate crime continue.
The outpouring of concern and outrage from activists, the general public, and figures like Bernice King, NFL wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Ava DuVernay, and others in reaction to Barnes’s death is the result of the intersection of multiple issues. While anger over the possible role racism played in her death is certainly part of this, it is not the only one.
Jazmine Barnes’s death is also a story about black childhoods — Barnes, a second-grader who wanted to be a teacher and loved music, was killed at a time where research has shown that black children are often viewed as less innocent and more adultlike than their white peers, a perception that likely plays a role in how often they’re exposed to violence. It’s also a story about gender and the fact that black women are nearly three times more likely than white women to be killed in homicides, though violence against black women is not as often covered by the media.
That Barnes’s death has sparked such an intense reaction could be seen as part of a deliberate effort from activists and sympathizers to counter these trends.