How News Media Fosters De-Humanization: A Case Study

First, I genuinely wish the families of Lexi and Lexandra Perez and Andrea Gonzalez prayers, good vibes, and karmic good.  

Rest in peace Lexi, Lexandra, and Andrea. 

I also wish for the same for the man who ran them over and his family.  Most would be understandably mad at him not only for killing, but for also fleeing. 

When these things happen, everyone loses.

Here's to hoping for an evolution into safer streets for everyone.

* * *
It was only a matter of time before they located a driver suspected of killed these three trick-or-treating teenagers in Santa Ana.

While it's good news, I was pretty irked by OC Weekly's coverage of this finding.

I wouldn't doubt any of the claims that OC Weekly is making, but it's their emphases that bother me.  Which emphases?  The ones that do more than identify but also further brand this individual as nothing more than guilty criminal before any investigation or trial has been set. 

As someone interested in Linguistic Anthropology, I always wonder how reporters use words to describe their understanding of a situation.  I definitely believe that their own background influences how they see and ultimately represent the background of a victim or an accused criminal.

I tend to think that media, most of whom are white, would be quicker to label a lower-class black guy with a more crystallized "criminal" branding than they are a lower-class white guy.  Possibly out of intent, more likely out of habit.

The basis of the article is the accused and his "long rap sheet." I must admit that I was a little curious as to who he was.  The OC Weekly dug that up, but they only trotted out his criminal record;  who really was he outside of this criminal record?  We don't know anything about his mom, or the two people he was with.  Why would they let him drive?  We don't get that idea whatsoever, and are not really exposed to any other complexity of his life other than the part of his history that notes his criminality.  

The OC Weekly's emphasis on his "rap sheet" only serves to crystallize and make it seem like what he did was ultimately of a permanent, intentional mindset.  I'm not sure why they decided to make his criminal record a "thing of interest," and focus of an article, rather than as simple background and part of a tragic story.  Though I am referencing a different article in a different city with a different writer, when Nathan Louis Campbell apparently rampaged and ran over those pedestrians with his Dodge Avenger at the Venice boardwalk last August and killed the honeymooning Alice Gruppioni from Italy, even he was not saddled with the broad brush of a menacing "rap sheet", he was simply "once locked up for shoplifting" though the article makes mention of another incident.

I am also bothered by OC Weekly's use of the word "homicide" as one of the labels/tags for this story. It's an accident, a distinction that would be of no consolation to anyone, but quite different than "homicide", which is worth noting for a news source purporting to be objective.  He is being charged for manslaughter and fleeing the scene, not homicide or murder.

OC Weekly's emphasis on the rap sheet, combined with this mug shot of yet another black guy in our faces, and the lack of focus on the victims has definitely stirred reaction.  As of this writing, the OC Weekly has reaped the benefits of this reporting with over 144 comments.

OC Weekly's coverage of this case is what I consider the low, dim end of the spectrum.

In my anecdotal scan of the coverage of other vehicular manslaughters in LA and OC, no one has really cared to splay an accused driver's criminal history or "rap sheet."  It didn't come up for Vanessa Yanez, nor for Gary S. Hunt.

Incidentally, while the OC Weekly has drummed up much comments about Jaquinne Bell, they are also silent about Gary Hunt, a man recently charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and driving his pick-up truck under the influence on October 21st, rear-ending a car at a stoplight, killing a 10-year old boy named Rafael Israel Ramirez, and injuring three others.  I can't find anything about Mr. Hunt.

OC Weekly is the low, dim contrast to KPCC's coverage, which is also tied into such stories such as how unsafe Santa Ana's streets are in general.

One of KPCC's stories also features a picture of the accused, but it's the second picture after 2 of the 3 girls.

In the story in which they break the news of the accused capture, it's merely a report with only a sentence about prior convictions.  Their initial story got 2 comments.  The latest report has 4, which includes an insightful comment from a veteran LA urban planning commenter about the man's punishment:  taking public transit and biking for the rest of his life.

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