School Violence Garners Less Media Coverage in Communities of Color

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    (MintPress)—Classes resumed Friday at Chardon High School in Ohio, after three teens were killed by a classmate in a shooting earlier in the week.

    Within hours after the shooting took place, national news outlets went live with coverage, and headlines about the shooting at the suburban school, where less than 2 percent of the student population is non-White, continue to surface.

    Given that statistics indicate that incidents of violence are more prevalent in schools across the US with higher percentages of students of color, the fact the shootings at schools like Chardon generate national media attention more than in communities of color is curious.


    Are violent acts in communities of color under-reported?

    An article published in the New York Times looks at this issue. It questions why school shootings and incidents of violence set the media ablaze when the incidents occur at schools with predominantly white student bodies, while incidents happening at schools with higher population of students of color enrolled get little, if any news coverage.

    The article mentions an incident which took place in 2001 at Hoover High School, a California high school where the student body is 54 percent Latino, 20 percent Black, 18 percent Asian and 5 percent White. The same week that a recent graduate stood near the courtyard of the school, took a pistol from his pocket, pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger, another school shooting captured much more media attention, taking place at a more suburban school just 15 miles away.

    “After all, a school shooting in a white, middle-class suburb like Santee — or at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colo. — where crime is nearly nonexistent, and students’ worries are centered on who is or is not popular and which colleges will or will not accept them, may still provoke shock and disbelief,” the article explained, “But if the same thing had happened at Hoover — which, like many inner-city high schools all over the country, is saddled with a reputation for being troubled and potentially dangerous — would it generate the same stunned reaction?”

    The question of why violence is under-reported at schools with higher percentages of students of color is perplexing. Especially given that researchers have noted a trend in violent incidents occurring more often in schools with a higher population of students of color, according to statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the primary federal entity for collecting, analyzing, and reporting data related to education in the United States and other nations.


    By the Numbers

    In the NCES report, Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2009–10, public schools in the U.S. where 95 percent or more of the enrolled students were White recorded far less incidents of violence than schools where less than 50 percent of those enrolled were white. The report found that schools with a higher population of color enrolled reported twice as much violent incidents as those where 95 percent or higher of the enrolled students were White.

    The topic of school violence is one that affects all levels of society. Aside from interfering with the learning process, the long range effects of school violence affect us all, the according to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence recently noted. Statistically, children who engage in bullying behavior are more likely to become adult criminals, the group points out, and any children who display violent behavior at school are exposed to violence or abuse outside of school and may be in need of help from adults.

    Another study from the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education revealed that in general, ethnic minority students report more feelings of fear at at school.


    Questioning the Lack of Coverage

    An article posted on the website of the organization who describes itself as  an online communication and information center for parents and guardians of adolescents, notes the problem of the media under-reporting violence in communities of color: “Where were the media during the 1980s and the 1990s when African American and Latino youngsters were toting guns and shooting each other – in schools, near schools, on the way to and from schools, and during drive-by shootings in the ‘hood?” the article asks.

    “The tacit answer is that little heed was paid by the media because these infractions did not measure up to the common definition of news. They were not judged to be anomalies. The incidents, after all, were what some white journalists expected in minority neighborhoods. And so we search in vain through news columns and videotapes of newscasts for more than the occasional in-depth report on children killing each other in and out of schools in Anacostia, in East LA, in Bed-Stuy, and in Roxbury. Just in the first half of the 1999-2000 school year alone, some dozen and a half school-aged children were killed – away from schools – in the District of Columbia, with hardly a mention in the news media outside Washington.”

    Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia told USA Today, “What’s ironic to me, and especially to many of my black students, is that Columbine and the major incidents of school violence that have sparked the recent national concern over safety were perpetrated by white kids. To black students, the refrain `We believed it couldn’t happen here’ coming from Columbine and other communities was code for `We didn’t think white kids could do a thing like this.'”

    Awareness of potentially violent behavior and early intervention are crucial components in helping kids at risk, the the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence says. Equally important is caring for children who have been victims of school violence. It is common for children to keep quiet about episodes of victimization due to shame, embarrassment and fear of escalated violence. Children who are victimized in school crime often suffer from decreased self-esteem, truancy, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and in extreme cases, suicide and violent retaliation, the group pointed out.


    The Big Picture

    The federal government released its Indicators of School Crime and Safety report recently, which revealed school-related violent deaths are at an all-time low since it began tracking such deaths in 1992. It reported 33 such deaths for the 2009-10 school year, with twenty-five of those deaths being considered homicides – also a record low.

    The 2006-07 school year recorded 63 deaths, the highest on record.

    However, a report on the findings from the Christian Science Monitor this week noted, “Still, those numbers – while the most comprehensive statistics available – don’t shed much light on school shootings, or on the specific sort of student-led shooting that seems to have occurred in Chardon. No central database of shooting incidents exists, and the incidents can vary so much by type – accidental shootings and suicides; gang-related shootings and those carried out by an adult shooter near a school or in a parking lot; those that don’t result in any deaths – that it can be hard to pin down exact numbers.”

    Still, how the media covers issues affecting communities of color is important.

    As Stephen Balkaran writes in the Yale Political Quarterly, that mass media has and will continue to play a crucial role in the way white Americans perceive African-Americans. However, this role has served, at times, to reinforce racist stereotypes.

    “As a result of the overwhelming media focus on crime, drug use, gang violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior among African-Americans, the media have fostered a distorted and pernicious public perception of African-American,” Balkaran points out.

    But is ignoring a documented issue seriously affecting communities of color better or worse?

    Balkaran points out, “One of the main reasons for the inadequate coverage of the underlying causes of racial stereotypes in the U.S. is that the condition of blacks itself is not a matter of high interest to the white majority. Their interest in black America is focused upon situations in which their imagined fear becomes a real problem. Events like boycotts, pickets, civil rights demonstrations, and particularly racial violence mark the point at which black activity impinges on white concerns. It is not surprising that the white-oriented media seek to satisfy the needs of their white audience and reflect this pattern of attention to these selected events.”


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