The first information I heard related to Friday's mass shooting in Jacksonville, Florida—which left three victims dead, as well as the gunman himself—included the fact it occurred at a Dollar General near Edward Waters University on Kings Road. My first job after college was in Jacksonville; I lived there for seven years. I instantly knew it occurred in a Black neighborhood. I didn't immediately know whether it was racially motivated.
Later in the day, I saw the shooting being reported on TV. A message scrolled across the bottom of the screen: "Racially Motivated Shooting in Jacksonville." News coverage revealed that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the FBI had discovered three manifestos from the shooter, Ryan Christopher Palmeter, including one sent to the media and another sent to his parents. The 21-year-old white man had swastikas on his weapons, including an AR-15-style assault weapon. The FBI announced that the shooting would be investigated as a "hate crime."
Officials revealed what they deemed enough of the contents of the manifestos to demonstrate the murders were racially motivated. They haven't revealed what, if anything, was written about his motivation. There are racists everywhere you are that don't go around killing people and then themselves. What was he thinking?
I want to know what motivates racially based murders so they can be stopped.
No media source I found share insight as to why the manifestos have not been released. I looked to precedent to see if there was some general policy about not releasing manifestos. Of the people I knew who had written manifestos, Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, published his 35,000-word manifesto as a book, Industrial Society and Its Future. Dylann Roof published, The Last Rhodesian, its 32-page length comparable to a children's picture book. The killer of nine Black people at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston exposed his deranged thoughts—and we learned from them. More recently, Audrey Hale, the Nashville shooter who killed six people at a private Christian school back in March, wrote a manifesto about his rationale. The debate is raging in court and elsewhere about whether the killer's writings will be released. The FBI says Hale's words are a "blueprint on total destruction."
There may be valid reasons to edit portions of a manifesto. It may contain personal information about individuals or detailed plans that could be replicated. There is a theory that the deranged writings of a killer might inspire others to take violent action. I'm more concerned about tweets and quotes from a deranged ex-president or Florida governor. One of the two just suggested invading Mexico to stop the flow of fentanyl. You'd have difficulty guessing if you didn't already know.
I want to know what motivates racially based murders so they can be stopped or slowed down. Suppose they got their cue from a particular website or individual. We can identify them and possibly take action. There seems to be a concern that publishing manifestos will give the shooters what they want in terms of fame. The Jacksonville murderer is dead—he won’t know the difference. There is a concern for “protecting the families of the deceased.” It seems irreparable harm has already been done; I’d focus on the families of future potential victims that might be spared.
I don't want someone poring through the contents and removing the inconvenient parts. It's the same argument for censoring Black history; it might make some people look or feel bad. If the shooter is influenced by public statements by politicians or by something he read online, we have a right to know.