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Mitchell: Virginia on-air ambush murders were a hate crime

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Thursday’s cold-blooded killings of two young TV journalists in Virginia shows that racial hatred is a two-way street.

A former co-worker ambushed Alison Parker and Adam Ward, both of them white, while they were conducting a live broadcast. Vicki Gardner, also white and the subject of the interview, survived and is still in the hospital.

The gunman, Vester Flanagan, 41, shot himself during a police pursuit and died shortly afterward.

Flanagan, an African-American TV reporter who went by the name of Bryce Williams, obviously harbored deep-seated resentments against his co-workers at WDBJ7-TV in Roanoke, Virginia.

OPINION

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After the shooting, Flanagan went on social media and downloaded videos of him committing the heinous act.

He also tweeted that Parker was a racist and complained that Ward had once filed a complaint against him.

This was real hate playing out in real life right before our eyes.

And while there was an outpouring of grief from every part of the country, including the White House, few had the courage to call this what it is.

This was a hate crime.

Flanagan was filled with it.

After the shooting spree, he faxed a 23-page letter to ABC News, saying the Charleston, South Carolina, church shootings in June were his tipping point, that he’d gone out afterward and bought a gun and hollow-point bullets.

But Flanagan is the flip side of the South Carolina shooter.

Dylann Roof, 21, who is white, is accused of killing nine black people during a Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The Rev. Clementa Pinckney and a state legislator were among the dead.

Photographs of the sullen-looking Roof, posing with the confederate flag, dominated the airways for days after the horrific act.

Someone who witnessed the church massacre claimed that when one of the victims pleaded with Roof to stop shooting, he replied: “No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country. . . . I have to do what I have to do.”

Despite the racial tensions that still exist in this country, worshipers would have been caught completely off-guard — thinking nothing was out of the ordinary when the young white boy walked in to the Bible study.

That’s the same attitude reporters have when they go out on a story. Unless we’re in a war zone, we feel safe going about our daily work even when an assignment takes us to dangerous locations.

We actually race to scenes where someone’s body is still lying on the street.

The on-air TV shootings have left many of us in shock because thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other social media apps, if someone means us harm, there really is nowhere to hide.

We also know that despite the progress Americans have made when it comes to race relations, there is still too much hate on both sides of the fence.

That’s one reason South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to retire the confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds was a balm for the entire country.

Because Roof was arrested, there will be some measure of justice for the South Carolina families.

It will be a lot harder to heal the Roanoke community because Flanagan took the coward’s way out.

Still, we can pay homage to these victims by calling this crime what it is.

Follow Mary Mitchell on Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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