18-year-old Nia Wilson was fatally stabbed as she entered a train in Oakland with two of her sisters. The youngest of eight siblings, Nia had her whole life ahead of her. She thought she might one day become a paramedic, open a dance studio, or maybe even a rapper if a producer heard her music.
But on Sunday, John Cowell, a white man she had never met, stabbed her to death while she was changing trains.
Nia’s older sister Letifah was also stabbed in the attack, though she was later released from the hospital with only minor injuries. It took nearly 24 hours to catch Nia’s suspected killer, and in that time much of the Oakland community was concerned the police would neglect the investigation because Nia was black.
Singer Kehlani, who is from Oakland, tweeted “#BART manages to catch riders who haven’t paid ticket fare, young graffiti artists, you can catch a murderer. give her family some peace and get a murderous white supremacist off of Oakland streets.”
After police received an anonymous tip of a man matching the suspect’s description boarding a train, Cowell was arrested. Despite Nia being black, and John Cowell being white, police have not singled out race as a motive in the killing, though they admit it certainly could be.
In a statement, Cowell’s family did not speak to the possible racial motivation, though they brought up his history with mental illness, saying: “Knowing that he was diagnosed with being bipolar & schizophrenia, the system has failed in this instance, We had to get a restraining order at one time as well for our own protection. He was living on the streets without the proper treatment. This is in no way an excuse for this senseless and vicious attack.”
He had been in prison until May 2018, when he was released on parole after serving two years for robbery. Regardless of Cowell’s motivation, race and its role in this story has galvanized Oakland and the Bay Area.
When reporting on the murder, KTVU used a photo of Nia holding what appeared to be a gun, but was in actuality a gun-shaped cell phone case. This outraged many in the area, as they say it’s evidence of the media’s portrayal of black victims as “less innocent” than white victims. Lawyer Beilal Chatila said: “I would say that there is a general feeling of this community being let down again.”
KTVU did apologize on air for posting the photo, and said it would not be shown again.
Amid all the controversy, people are also trying to take this time to praise Nia’s name and the time she spent on Earth. Many used the demonstrations in Oakland as an opportunity to play and dance to some of Nia’s music.
— Lucas Guilkey (@lucasguilkey) July 24, 2018
Actress Anne Hathaway wrote a much-shared Instagram post, that’s being praised as a shining example of white solidarity. She wrote: “White people- including me, including you- must take into the marrow of our privileged bones the truth that ALL black people fear for their lives DAILY in America and have done so for GENERATIONS. White people DO NOT have equivalence for this fear of violence.”
So, again, regardless of Cowell’s specific motivation, Nia Wilson’s story reminds us that black people do live with this embedded fear – fear of violence, and fear that violence against them won’t be taken seriously.
What happened to Nia Wilson is yet another tragedy – and perhaps another opportunity for us to come together to seek justice.
John Cowell will be arraigned on August 22. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @WhatsTrending.