In the Echo Chamber: The DC Car Chase to Today - Exclusive Week

By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Events in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 3 alarmed many. On the third day of the government shutdown, something happened that afternoon which entailed a media frenzy of “Shots Fired” and “Capitol Hill Lockdown”.

That day, television viewers witnessed a looping video of a black Infiniti car being surrounded by armed officers, followed by the Infiniti backing up into a police vehicle and driving off into the streets of Washington DC.

What was happening at the Capitol? Why were there gunshots?

We know more information now – but for the afternoon of the event, things looked quite hectic judging by announcements on Twitter.

Gathering tweets from the DC area until 5:41 p.m., Twitchy, the self-proclaimed “Twitter curation site” put together the headline:

“Incident at US Capitol, possible shots fired [pics]; Update: Lockdown lifted; Female suspect dead?; Update: Child reportedly pulled from suspect’s car; Update: Video of police chase; Update: Suspect identified?”

Twitchy reporters gathered a number of tweets from Robert Costa, the National Review’s Washington editor; from the segment of 2:22-2:29 p.m., he composed several posts to constantly update his audience:

“Shots fired at the Capitol” (2:22); “Capitol is on lockdown, shots outside capitol” (2:22); “Gun shots on west front” (2:25); “Reports of multiple shots, chaos at Cap” (2:29).

By 2:56, Costa reported that the Capitol lockdown was over. By 2:57, he came out with breaking news that: “Source says female suspect reported dead on scene at US Capitol.”

It goes without saying how Twitter is an example of the realms of old media and new media have merged in many ways. For instance, a reporter like Robert Costa can be as subject to composing quick, repetitive tweets that disclose instant information as much as finished articles – leading to sources like Twitchy.

By the evening of Oct. 3, at 5:41 p.m., Robert Costa tweeted a comprehensive article by the Stamford Advocate – he chose to promote a source from Connecticut, even though Costa himself was present in DC in the setting of the chase.

Before Costa’s article post at 5:41 p.m., other people in DC used their Twitter handles to let the public know immediately that a small child was taken out of the car, a police car was damaged, no officers were shot, that all shots were fired by police, and that authorities said it was an “isolated incident” that was not terrorism.

Then by the end of the day on Oct 3, major DC old media institutions like the The Washington Times were able to disclose greater details in full-length article form: the driver was identified a 34-year-old dental hygienist, Miriam Carey, a resident of Stamford, Conn. At 2:12, Carey had driven her black Infiniti into a security fence outside the White House. She then sped down the streets of DC, driving to the west side of the US Capitol, where officers approached her with guns – Carey then sped away again, and crashed her car, where police shot her to death.

Over a month has passed since the DC car chase, far after Twitter’s attention span has moved on – so what has happened since?

Ethical debates have resulted about how the Capitol Police handled this case. Some have applauded these officers for reacting to this situation even though the shutdown was in place and they, as federal workers, were not getting paid. Others argue that Miriam Carey was unarmed and that it was unnecessary for police to use lethal force to handle the situation.

What caused Miriam Carey to drive to DC has yet to be determined. Investigators are trying solve this, and in doing so, moved this car-chase story out of DC, and directed it to Stamford, Conn. and Brooklyn, NY. where they are gathering police records and talking to friends and relatives. Authorities are also traveling to Brooklyn, where they are speaking with her family members. Miriam Carey’s sisters have appeared on CNN to announce that they disapprove of how the police handled the case, saying that Miriam certainly should not have died, and that she was a law-abiding citizen who was not delusional.

However, Stamford police records show that Carey’s boyfriend had been concerned about her emotional stability. There are also reports that she was diagnosed with psychosis and post-partum depression. The Stamford Police disclosed to the Associated Press that Carey was delusional and had an obsession with President Obama, as she claimed the president “put Stamford in lockdown after speaking to her because she is the Prophet of Stamford” – some paranoid phone calls she made to this police department have also been released.

While certain concerns of the DC car chase had been immediately solved, some longer-term arguments of police interference and alarming psychological states need further analysis. Perhaps the long-term results of this case could lead to better recognition of individuals prone to acts like the DC car chase, as well as preparing officers not to handle such a situation violently.