Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Beating Death of an Innocent

Last Thursday on the far south side of Chicago, a 16-year old boy was beaten to death after stumbling into a gang fight. You've probably heard of this story.

The day after the incident, however, it didn't draw much attention. While mentioned on the news, it wasn't really 'news'. Unfortunately, the death of a young black man in a city doesn't bring the same attention most other murders do.

By the weekend, though, that began to change. But not for good reasons. On Saturday, Fox Chicago obtained a cell phone video showing the incident. Immediately, other news organizations picked up the story and showed stills from the video. All of a sudden, the police began to feel great pressure to act as the outcry cause by the brutality so apparent on the video was loud.

By Monday, the story had gone national. Links to it were found on the homepages of CNN, MSNBC, and a link to the video was the headline on Drudge. You see, this week Chicago is also finding out its Olympic fate. The combination of the ramifications of such a public brutal murder on the Olympic bid and the presence of the video itself meant the story was definitely now 'news'.

In a city where the murder of young black men is all too frequent, and usually overlooked, it is no longer the case. For now at least...

Think back to your own knowledge of this story. When did you find out about it? Was it just recently? Think about the implications media coverage has on what we deem important.

You see, this incident was not the only occurrence of innocent death at the end of last week. You may also have heard about this one, but more likely not. On Friday, two teens were gunned down in North Lawndale (one block from where several of my Little Leaguers have lived) on their front porch. There have been no arrests in this incident. And much less public outcry. Sadly, these college kids were not safe even at home and it doesn't seem to be that big a deal. There certainly isn't the national microscope on this incident. And I can't help but wonder, is that because there wasn't a dramatic violent video for these murders?

Until these tragedies are felt with the same emotion every time they occur as the beating death has wrought this week, we will have a problem. There is a scourge of violence amongst certain communities in our country, and work needs to be accelerated to end it. The equitable education of all our youngsters is a right we have not done enough to achieve. If anything good can come of these incidents, my prayer is that it results in fewer of them down the road.

1 comment:

chris ridgeway said...

The sadness of the story aside, it's an interesting case study on the way news floats or sinks in the ocean of information. It reminds me that although the future was have greater democratic input into relevance, right now the tradition journalism agencies still have more control, and their input is advertising-driven which somehow causes them to choose sensationalism.

But this interesting part is the "grasp for recontexualization" that occurs... the story isn't interesting on its own, but place it next to the olympic bid story, and the juxtaposition upgrades the story. Do they actually have relevance to each other? Not much, I'd think. But the pattern arrangement creates relevance.

Since I've been thinking about pattern recognition and recontextualization a lot, this is an interesting example of a suggested pattern that an audience might accept uncritically.