Monday, February 1, 2010

On the Press Coverage of Crime

We had a horrible weekend when it came to gun related violence here in Kansas City. It was one of those weekends where you start to believe all that stuff about full moons. (Researchers swear it makes no differences in crime rates, ER visits, etc. but I dunno...) Three different locations in KCMO, 6 shot, one fatally, all on Saturday night--really Sunday morning as all were after midnight.

I knew about one of the shootings, the fatal one on Jackson Avenue, due to having my scanner on at just that time. I turned it off before I found out what the outcome was, and when I was up in the morning I went to check news to find out what had happened. There was a short story on NBC Action News (KSHB) on all three shootings. There was nothing anywhere else, including the Kansas City Star. In fact, there was nothing on the Star's webpage until the afternoon hours. This fatal shooting had happened at 0140! So it took over 8 hours for it to appear on the paper's website. Meantime, all the media was just full of news of the Waldo rapist. In addition, there were stories on KCTV5 about car break-ins in the Crossroads neighborhood.

I understand that murder on the East Side of Kansas City Missouri is not as appealing or compelling as rape or even the rash of car break-ins. The East Side is where most violence in our town takes place. It is not uncommon for people to be killed there. I do think also, that race does play a role in the news coverage. I don't know the demographics for sure but I wouldn't be surprised that most consumers of news media are White. This would be especially true of the daily paper. People are much more stirred by news that affects people who look like them, and live in or near their neighborhoods. Most killings on the East Side involve Black people. This means that White viewers/readers may not find the news of killings on the East Side very compelling. News broadcasts today are about ratings and eyeballs at least as much--if not more--then keeping people informed. While murder is a horrible crime, for the White reader/viewer it is not happening to me and mine: the rapes and break-ins, now those are nearer to me and my people. Murder of Black people does not compel and thus, has lower ratings.

To me, these shootings, particularly the fatal shooting, and the shooting on Southwest Boulevard that was a drive-by that injured two people at a food service truck, were and are really quite newsworthy and noteworthy. Lost of life should never be glossed over; it should always lead the crime report, if not the news cast. The second completely random shooting should be news because it points to a danger that should not be: that a completely innocent activity, like getting a snack, can result in life threatening injury.

Editors make choices and those choices reflect values and priorities. The problem comes when something big, like the amount of gun violence and the number of murders happening in Kansas City appears to be downplayed, and less severe crime situations are publicized as they seem more compelling due to the nature of the victims and the man-bites-dog phenomenon. The temptation then becomes for the majority community--White folks--to stick their heads in the sand when it comes to the problem of violence and murder in this whole community. This simply cannot happen. When someone is murdered, they are gone. All the potential they had is snuffed out. It is a loss no matter what part of the community it happens in, and murder deserves the attention of this whole city, no matter of location and race. It is as a whole community that actions will be taken to reduce the murder rate--through improving education and opportunity, better police work and increased police resources, or whatever it may take to reduce the number of people who lose their lives needlessly to violence.


Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Now that I am feeling more myself (although still coughing) I want to answer this post.

The lack of crime reporting is bad. It should take over most of the celebrity pages (IMHO) because as you say, each one of us is important.

I know it allows us to forget about the poor, the marginalized, and the race that is not ours, whatever that race may be. And it allows neighborhoods where crime is rampant to avoid scrutiny and possibly even self-scrutiny.

The press is supposed to blow fresh air over complacency. By ignoring rashes of murders, it leaves the police undertaking a job where the rest of the community cannot fully understand or support their efforts.
It allows those people far away to not trouble themselves with the sadness and despair of victim's families.
It allows those more violent communities to avoid the analysis of what went wrong and how to fix it. There is nothing like a spectator to clean up one's act.

Thank you for a most thoughtful post. I wanted to answer it before but was afraid I would screw it up.

Ann T.

the observer said...

Ann T--

Thank you for your wonderful comment! I am considering a follow up post that will take up some of the issues raised by KC bloggers after this tragic weekend. With your comments, I want to key into the idea of the neighborhoods that are most affected by violent crime being unable/unwilling/underinformed and not looking at themselves candidly and asking what can they do/change to reduce violent crime.

Thanks for reading; I am so glad you are feeling better!

The Observer

the observer said...

Nuts I forgot I wanted to do a little update to the stories regarding each shooting.

I have not heard of any suspects being arrested in any of the shootings.

There was one shooting, on Walrond Ave that I did not detail greatly. Basically, a man was found in a car and he had gun shot wounds. Unfortunately, he died during the week. So that is now a murder investigation.

The two people shot near the food service truck were the owners of the truck. Both are going to survive; one much more serious then the other. Witnesses thought that the gunfire may have been aimed at three individuals nearby who were described as "wearing baggy pants." Thus demonstrating once again that most criminals are terrible marksmen. It's a pity that in their missing they hit anyone. Of course, they should not be shooting at anybody...but that's the point of this conversation isn't it? To get people to consider other ways of dealing with things then shooting each other?