The Uber Assumption in Kalamazoo

Another day, another mass shooting in America. It’s getting to the point that these events don’t surprise anymore.

But one thing about the Kalamazoo shootings did stop me in my tracks, and that was the media’s immediate and almost reflexive identification of the shooter as an “Uber driver.“ Did it bother you?

We have read in both Elements and Blur about the dangers of assumptions and labels — all blacks are this, all Catholics vote this way, all Yankees fans are smug. While I have no love for the Yankees – in fact, I rather loathe them — I am inclined to believe there are a few down-to-earth fans somewhere.

Presuming all members of a group share the values and practices of the group is the quickest way to journalistic overreach, so my experience has taught me. As I read details of the shooting I was fascinated at the consistent description of the shooter as an Uber driver, often high in the story. As if that is all we could learn about this tortured and twisted person.

From USA Today: The alleged shooting spree by an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Mich., is triggering fresh questions about whether the ride-hailing giant is doing enough to keep its riders safe.

The New York Post: Girl ‘brain-dead’ after Uber shooting gives thumbs-up before organs harvested

I could find more examples I am sure.

Most of this is, of course, relevant description of the shooter with legitimate news value to those who want to know of his background and motivations. But pardon me if some of this also seems like an attempt to piggyback on the Uber paranoia gripping some big cities these days, including my own, NYC, where Uber is banned. If that’s so, and I pray I am wrong, then we all need to look at our ethical mirrors.

There is some Skull and Bones-like mystery to Uber, its hiring practices and its business model. And I don‘t know if Uber needs to rethink its background checks after this tragic incident. I do know it has become remarkably successful remarkably quickly. I’d hate to see other hardworking Uber drivers and even this mega-successful company itself become collateral damage to a story for which there is no explanation.


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