Justice For Trayvon Martin: Black-On-White Crime And The Myth Of Liberal Media Bias
According to some chain emails and Facebook postings, these stories and others like them haven’t made national headlines because the victims were white and the assailants were black. Some conservatives proudly wave these stories as proof of a liberal media bias, asking why they have not received the same outpouring of media attention and popular protests that still follow the shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. But these angry conspiracy theorists completely miss that race was a single element in a case most importantly about seeking justice and action when there was none.
Trayvon Martin did not make headlines just because of the gruesomeness and senselessness of his death. Thousands of violent deaths occur every year in the US, and few of these merit coverage from the national media. As far as I can tell, the Martin case had three unique and newsworthy features that captured the nation’s attention: 1) Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, was known and had confessed, but remained uncharged for weeks; 2) Zimmerman’s actions could have been legal thanks to controversial “stand your ground” legislation; and 3) the victim himself has been accused of looking suspicious, and even of provoking the attack. Fox News host Geraldo Rivera went so far as to say that Martin would still be alive if he had not been a young black man in a hoodie.
Not a single one of the crimes mentioned in the first paragraph, nor any other similar crime story I know of, shares a single one of these features. In each of the black-on-white crime cases mentioned above, a suspect was arrested within days, if not hours- and that’s without the benefit of a confession. In two of the three cases, the suspects have since been convicted- the third is awaiting trial. None of them raised questions about controversial legislation. And in none of the cases did anyone suggest that the victims had somehow provoked their own deaths just by their appearance.
Zimmerman is of course innocent until proven guilty; but the confessed shooter of Trayvon came close to never having to face his day in court. The flood of media coverage and public outrage was not just over the crime, but over the lack of a criminal prosecution- a problem completely absent in the other cases. A quick look at Google Trends would suggest that attention to the case was connected to seeking action: search volumes and news references drop off drastically after Zimmerman was formally charged on April 11.
The Trayvon Martin shooting didn’t become a media sensation just because the victim was black, and those other stories weren’t “ignored” because the victims were white. The media reported on a shocking and newsworthy story with unanswered questions, and gave less coverage to the tragic but less controversial cases. When justice is denied and action is needed, it’s newsworthy, regardless of color.