I am sick of them; sick of headline titles referring to criminals as honor students, cheerleaders, phenomenal athletes, and loving individuals incapable of ever committing a crime.
Take the following very real article from ABC News as an example: "Bay Area Honor Student Accused Of Rape At Boston University." Right underneath the title is a video of this so-called honor student standing in front of the judge with a clean shaven face in a brand new suit. Moving on to the article itself, the writer made sure to let the audience know how people who knew this student, notice how they still haven’t even mentioned his name, thought these allegations “were inconceivable.” Because of course, what article about a criminal would be complete without knowing how amazing he was to everyone but the innocent human whose life he decided to ruin.
As if the readers already didn’t know, the article states, “It's the story of a bright young man and star athlete who lived in a house in Tiburon gone bad,” followed by repeating that he was, “an honor student and basketball player formerly at MIT,” like mentioning these would make the charges against him any less horrible which are still nowhere to be found. I am three paragraphs in this article and there has been zero information about the crime itself. So what exactly is this superstar honor athlete charged with?
Drum roll, please… “He faces charges of rape, breaking and entering, intent to commit burglary and indecent assault and battery.” Oh. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this criminal went on a rampage, broke into a dorm, raped a girl, yet has an article written on him where he is praised for being an honor student more times than being shamed for violating a girl.
I am sure that most of you remember the outrage a few weeks back when Brock Turner received only a three-month sentence for his heinous crime. Part of the reason people were so enraged was because of media’s referral to this criminal as the “Stanford swimmer” and using a possible yearbook picture instead of his mug shot. The media’s constant refusal to label these people as what they are and rather by their accomplishment is more than alarming. One would think that media does this to remind us all that these are people just like us who deserve fairness; however, there’s a caveat: these headlines are reserved only for privileged white criminals.
While it may sound harsh, it is true. According to multiple research studies by American Civil Liberties Union, Center for American Progress and Open Society Foundation Latino and African-American men receive much longer punishments than their white counterparts for the same crimes. And even before these men receive these verdicts, the media does not hesitate even a moment to portray them as uneducated thugs whose lives have no purpose but to spread chaos.
When Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American boy, was shot by a white police officer, the media only chose to show pictures of him throwing “gang signs” and flipping the camera while completely ignoring pictures of him in his graduation gown, hugging his mother. Instead of showing him the same undeserving respect they showed to those other criminals, the media purposely painted a picture of him that would quickly allow the audience to draw their own false conclusions. Brown wasn’t even at fault here, so let’s talk about someone that was.
Willie McDaniels, a 28-year-old African-American, was charged with statutory rape and his article was nothing close to the one examined in the beginning. The title was much smaller than the huge mug shot that was posted right underneath it. This is how the article began: “A man has been charged with the rape of a child after the victim, a teenage runaway, went to stay with him. Willie Earl McDaniels, 28, of 120 Albany St., Apt. 34, Graham, was arrested Monday and charged with felony first-degree statutory rape.”
Notice any differences? The readers have been given his name, his age, even his address, along with stating his charges perfectly clear all within the first two sentences. The article then goes on to talk about the victim and giving more background about her, while in the first article, the victim was only an afterthought. The same goes for criminals with different religion.
Whenever there’s a shooting involved where the criminal is Muslim, the headlines make sure to mention his faith in every headline regardless of him being born and raised in American. When Dylan Roof burned down a black church, there was no headline that talked about his faith.
On June 23rd, in Germany, a gunman opened fire at a movie theater and kept people hostage until he died during a struggle with the police. Over 25 civilians were injured, but the news media quickly brushed the story since there was obviously no connection to the shooter having an Islamic background. In fact, an article by USA Today, even went so far as to saying that the suspect “looked confused” and was a “small, black-haired and between 18 and 22 years old.”
Keep in mind that this individual went into a movie theater and emptied four rounds in his gun, but he was still portrayed as a tiny, aloof young adult who really didn’t know what he was doing. The headlines were all about a “German shooter” rather than a “Christian shooter” however, whenever it’s the other way around, the faith is mentioned and not the nationality.
When the media resorts to using these completely different descriptions for people of difference races and religion for the same crimes, they are only strengthening the discriminatory stereotypes that exist in our society. I am by no means advocating that minorities should also be given less severe punishments for their crimes or not be blamed for their actions; rather, I want them to report on all criminals using the same rhetoric regardless of their race or religion.
Despite all the attributes and differences between criminals, their crimes put them all on the exact same level. If they are to be judged by an equal and fair law based on what they did and not who they are, the media needs to reflect this and stop playing the judge and the jury.
It doesn’t matter if someone is black, white, Muslim, Christian, an athlete, an honor student, rich or poor -- when they commit a crime, they are only one thing: a criminal, and that’s the only way the media should address them.