Media Myths: Why Certain Shootings Get More Attention Than Others

by John Haltiwanger

We have become far too accustomed to violence in the United States. Headlines surrounding shootings are almost as common as weather reports.

Simply put, this country has a huge problem with firearms, but perhaps an even bigger issue is the way we view and discuss them.

In other words, a majority of Americans are unaware of the actual numbers surrounding gun crimes and police killings.

Our perceptions and opinions are fueled by irresponsible media, which care more about viewership than accuracy and integrity. Not to mention, every outlet has its own agenda; objective reporting is an elusive entity in this environment.

We have been habitually misled, and it's perpetuating a general ignorance across the populace.

In the case of Michael Brown and Ferguson, these lies and myths have come to the surface once again. Concurrently, they offer insight as to why some shootings get more attention than others.

"Black On Black Crime" Is A Distraction

Numerous media outlets, especially Fox News, continue to ask the African-American population why they are so outraged about a white cop shooting an unarmed black teen in the case of Mike Brown.

They contend that black on black crime is a much bigger problem and wonder why African-Americans aren't out in the streets protesting about this more often.

During a recent interview with Fox, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani stated:

I do believe that there is more interaction and more unfair interaction between police officers, white and black. But I think just as much, if not more, responsibility is on the black community to reduce the reason why the police officers are assigned in such large numbers to the black community. It’s because blacks commit murder eight times more per capita than any other group in our society.

Speaking with CNN about President Obama's statements on police training, he also remarked: "[Obama] also should have spent 15 minutes on training the [black] community to stop killing each other.”

First of all, black people are well aware of the violence within predominately African-American communities.

In the past four years alone, blacks have held community protests on this issue in multiple cities across the United States, including: Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana.

Moreover, whites also tend to kill whites as well. People of the same race typically hang out with one another. It goes without saying that they have a higher probability of killing people of the same race.

Between 1980 and 2008, and then again in 2012, 84 percent of white homicides were committed by whites.

Concentrating on black on black crime is a distraction from the fact that the criminal justice system is systematically discriminatory toward people of color.

For example, police are 21 times more likely to shoot black teens than white teens.

Furthermore, despite the fact that blacks and whites use marijuana at the same rate, blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested.

The United States comprises around 5 percent of the world's total population, yet it has 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. What's more, African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.

Blacks make up 36 percent of all prisoners, making them the largest racial demographic in America's prisons. Additionally, fives time as many whites are using drugs than blacks, yet blacks are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses.

At the same time, blacks only make up 13 percent of the total US population, while whites make up 77 percent.

Hence, if some people are wondering why others are outraged when a white cop shoots a black teen, it's because it happens far too often.

It's because American society is so obviously plagued by racism that to deny it is like arguing that the Earth is flat. It's because blacks make up a racial minority that has been oppressed for centuries.

Correspondingly, Te-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for the Atlantic, recently stated:

We have this long history of racism in this country, and as it happens the criminal justice system has been perhaps the most prominent instrument for administering racism. But the racism doesn't actually come from the criminal justice system... The police are pretty much doing what the society that they originate from want them to do

This is why Michael Brown's shooting is getting so much attention because it reflects a much wider issue. It was not an isolated incident, but yet another example of a national, cultural and historical problem.

The loss of any life is tragic, regardless of race, but that does not diminish the fact that intolerance, racism and discrimination pervade this country.

Violent Crime Is Down But Mass Shootings And Police Killings Are Up

With so many reports on gun violence in the news, Americans have been fed a misperception about the actual rate of violence in their country. Since 1993, the national gun homicide rate has dropped by 49 percent.

In spite of that fact, 56 percent of Americans believe that gun crime has gone up in the past 20 years.

In fact, crime in general has gone down in the United States over the past two decades. Between 1993 and 2012 homicide, robbery, rape and aggravated assault dropped by 48 percent. In New York City alone, the overall crime rate dropped by 71 percent during the same period.

Concurrently, since 2011, mass shootings in the United States have tripled. Yet, as Mark Follman highlights for Mother Jones:

Though mass shootings make an outsize psychological impact, they are a tiny fraction of the nation's overall gun violence, which takes more than 30,000 lives annually.

In other words, mass shootings garner so much attention due to their shock value. It's much less surprising to hear that a shooting has occurred in Baltimore, for example, than at an elementary school.

Likewise, while it's positive that gun crime has dropped significantly in recent times, this reveals that it's obviously still a problem.

We have become so accustomed to hearing about gun violence in our cities that we have become desensitized to the problem. This is a massive signal that urban gun violence is an issue that merits much greater attention.

When discussing violence in the United States, it's also notable that in 2013, police killed 461 people, the most in two decades. Simultaneously, 27 police officers were slain in the line of duty, the least amount in more than 50 years.

Not to mention, the Wall Street Journal discovered that between 2007 and 2012, more than 550 police killings were missing from the national tally.

In some cases they just weren't reported at all. So the actual number of people police killed every year is unknown.

In essence, violent crime is down and police are safer, but police killings are up.

We have to demand greater transparency from police if they are to be held accountable for misconduct and violations of the law.

At the same time, it's important that we take a hard look at the way in which we perceive race and violence in this country. In the process, we might finally reduce gun deaths in a substantial way.