One thing a journalist usually learns early on is to not say out loud what everybody knows, things like “the mayor is a crook,” “global warming is a scam,” “the birth certificate is a forgery,” etc.
In the case of WTAE anchor Wendy Bell, it was “they are young black men,” used in speculating about the shooters who killed six people in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, in early March.
Bell, who had been at WTAE for 18 years, was shown the door after posting on the station’s Facebook page about the suspects before police had announced any suspects or arrests.
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She wrote, “They are young black men, likely in their teens or early 20s.
“They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested. They’ve made the circuit and nothing has scared them enough. Now they are lost. Once you kill a neighbor’s three children, two nieces and her unborn grandson, there’s no coming back. There’s nothing nice to say about that.”
The blowback from complainers was apparently pretty severe, as the management jumped right in to fire Bell last week, and general manager Charles Wolfertz apologized publicly for Bell’s “egregious lack of judgment.”
So, what led a longtime reporter to use “stereotypical language” in a sudden fit of racism? Here are the facts:
On March 9, a black family was enjoying a backyard barbecue at their home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg when someone sneaked into the alley behind their house and fired a .40-caliber handgun at or near the family. Panicked, the family members ran for cover toward their back patio, where a second gunman was lurking with an AK-47.
A total of 49 shots were fired, 31 from the AK, 18 from the handgun. One victim had a total of 50 bullet holes in her body, counting entry and exit wounds. Six people were killed in the attack: siblings Jerry Michael Shelton, 35, Brittany Powell, 27, and Chanetta Powell, 25; their cousins Tina Shelton, 37, and Shada Mahone, 26; and Chanetta Powell’s unborn baby, who was in his eighth month of growth (which didn’t stop the Washington Post and other media outlets from calling the child a “fetus”).
Two other family members were injured and hospitalized, including Lamont Powell, 24, who was released from the hospital only to be arrested on suspicion of assault in a December incident, in which he is accused of beating and pulling a gun on his sister’s boyfriend. The sister in question is Chanetta Powell, the pregnant woman who was killed with her unborn child.
Investigators say they haven’t linked the December incident to the shooting, but the district attorney told WPXI that Lamont Powell was the likely target of the massacre.
On March 18, the district attorney said he believed the gunmen had been identified. On March 25, police arrested Cheron Shelton, 29, and questioned him in connection with the shooting, according to CBS. Police have not yet announced whether he is being held as a suspect in the murders.
There are still some facts that have yet to be released, along with the matter of arresting the actual shooting suspects, but with the possible exception of the suspects’ ages (she had said “early twenties”), Bell seems so far to have been correct in her suppositions.
When the charges get filed, it’s almost a sure thing she was right about the suspects’ prior involvement with the criminal justice system as well. The people who were murdered were herded into a spot where killing all of them would be easy. That’s not a scenario you arrange and pull off successfully just because you’ve seen a couple of episodes of “Breaking Bad.”
Is this a racist getting lucky? It seems that Bell is only guilty of knowing the area too well. She seems at this point to have given a pretty accurate assessment of what went down at that backyard barbecue.
Bell maintains she didn’t get treated fairly in being summarily fired, and it’s hard to disagree.
Her real crime was not any of the blather her bosses gave about violating standards of journalistic integrity. It was about speaking the truth about crime in black communities, which is often perpetrated by young black men on other blacks.
Bell’s crime was being honest about black-on-black crime in an age when only racist white cops are allowed to cause the black community’s problems.