In Los Angeles public high schools, according to the Los Angeles School Police Department, there were 646 weapons possessions in 2003-04, an almost 9 percent increase from the previous year, yet there was little to no media coverage of this.
Nor was much attention paid to the March 21 high school shooting on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota. Like the lack of coverage of weapons possessions in Los Angeles schools, the reason this school shooting did not receive equal airtime to the Columbine school shooting is simple: it did not take place in white suburbia.
The Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999, had an immense impact on Americans from all socioeconomic backgrounds, serving as a wake-up call that shootings do not just occur in inner-city schools. Had this shooting occurred at a high school in Los Angeles, it would more than likely have been labeled as being a result of gang tensions, at least in the eyes of the media.
Oftentimes, crimes in Los Angeles in poorer economic areas are linked to gang activity, and are therefore dismissed by the media. This is evident simply through the crime information provided on the Los Angeles Police Department’s website. Crime statistics are broken down by year, and only include a few different crime categories, which is odd, considering that Los Angeles is the second largest city in the nation. One would assume the police would have more thorough crime records. They do, however, have very thorough records on gang-related crimes, which are broken down by month into 12 crime categories, and lists of how many members there are in each gang.
When researching crime rates and how many stories make it to the news, it appears that there are distinct trends.
Take for example kidnapping and child murder cases.
There are a variety of kidnapping cases that make it to local news stations and newspapers that also pour over into the national news. Take, for instance, the Elizabeth Smart case, where a 14-year-old blonde Utah girl was kidnapped from her home in June 2002, only to be safely discovered nine months later. For the nine months she was missing, and several months thereafter, the media hounded the Smart family, making this one of the top stories on the news and in newspapers.
Also similar was the case of the 1996 killing of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, a blonde-haired girl from Boulder, Colo. For years this story was in the news around the country, and there were even specials dedicated to the anniversary of her death.
What is interesting to note is that in 1996, there were close to 2,000 children killed in the United States, yet this was the only child’s murder that made national news.
What is this trend that seems to dominate the media, which categorizes a victim into a select demographic?
Both Smart and Ramsey have one thing in common. They are white and are from suburbia.
According to crime statistics from the California Criminal Justice Profiles, there were 1,638 kidnappings in Los Angeles in 2000. Yet very few, if any, made it into the news. Perhaps this is because nearly half (747) were committed by Hispanics, while only 382 were committed by Caucasians. Typically, the only stories one may hear on the local news in regards to kidnappings of minorities is that one parent takes the child from another parent and flees. But these victims do not end up on CNN pleading to get their children back.
Another thing to note is that this high number of kidnappings in Los Angeles cannot be linked to gangs, since the average number of gang-affiliated kidnappings per year is only nine, according to the LAPD.
So why is it that the media only puts a spotlight on certain cases in which the victim or victims are white or come from the suburbs?
In the case of Jeff Weise, the 16-year-old boy who murdered five classmates, a teacher, a security guard, his own grandfather, his grandfather’s companion and himself on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, he suffered from depressively dangerous thoughts. If the media sheds more light on the fact that shootings like this do not just occur in white suburbia or as a result of gang violence, this may address the fact that the types of depressing feelings that Weise felt are also experienced by numerous individuals of all ethnicities living in all areas of this country every day.
Who is to say that one Utah girl’s kidnapping is more important than the 1,638 kidnappings in Los Angeles, or that one girl’s murder in Colorado is more important than the more than 2,000 other children killed nationally, or that one high school shooting in Littleton, Colo., is more important than the lives lost in the Red Lake High School shooting?
A person’s skin color and socioeconomic status are not justification enough to devalue thousands of other victims’ lives.