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The shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri has sparked a discussion about how young black men are covered in the press.

A Twitter hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown refers to what pictures the media would show of young black men killed by police officers. Would the media deliberately choose pictures of them looking like thugs?

I can’t say I’ve witnessed this specific type of bias in Rochester, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. When covering a story about any deceased individual, I look for the nicest pictures available. The pictures we show are most often provided by families. Sometimes families don’t have many pictures from which to choose. (Poynter offers a good discussion for journalists on how to avoid bias in these situation when choosing photos.)

But the hashtag raised a much larger issue of how the media covers young black men. The most thought-provoking article I read was by Jasmine Banks in Root titled, “Black Kids Don’t Have to Be College-Bound for Their Deaths to Be Tragic:”

The more horrific part, in my opinion, is that we—people of color—have been exposed to this “thugs deserve to die” narrative so frequently that some of us seem to have embraced it ourselves. Instead of arguing that nobody deserves to be shot, we tie ourselves up in knots making the case that the latest victim of a law-enforcement officer’s bullet was a good kid, or that the photo the news media selected wasn’t the most flattering depiction of him…

We cannot and should not engage in discussions that look like black and brown people explaining that an unarmed person shouldn’t have been shot because they lived in a way of which we are proud. 

This article resonated with me. There are so many young, black men who are killed in Rochester. We hear grieving loved ones say, “He was turning his life around.” We hear, “He was going to MCC in the fall.” We hear, “He was a good kid and would have done anything for anyone.”

Sometimes those things are true. Sometimes they are not true. Sometimes victims are innocent. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes people are honest about their loved ones. Sometimes they are not.

It doesn’t matter.

When I was attending John Marshall High School, I was acutely aware of how the media treated urban crime. Even then, I was a news junkie. During a time of record homicides, many of them young black men, we collectively remember only one young black male from that era: 14-year-old Ralik Henton, hit with a stray bullet, dying with a bible in his hand.

In 1995, a black teenager I went to high school with was robbed, shot and left for dead on the sidewalk as he left his job at McDonald’s. The name of this murder victim is long forgotten to all but his friends and family.

When I started my first job in Rochester, I asked why some homicide cases get more attention that others. A manager told me, “Families shouldn’t look to the news media to validate their loved one.”

One some level, that’s true. The news media pays more attention to things that are out of the ordinary. Innocent victims, suburban victims and white victims are more unusual. Some crimes are simply more shocking than others.

StreetMake no mistake, however. Media bias exists. At another job, I was constantly criticized by some superiors for “doing too many stories in the city.” The message was clear: The (mostly white) suburbs matter more than the (racially diverse) city. I was dumbfounded. How can you have too many stories in a city with 210,000 people, a city with enormous challenges and numerous people without a voice? Why does the news exist, if not to tell these stories? I am grateful I was still able to do most of my “city stories,” despite the criticism.

There’s so much urban violence, we have become numb. Even if we wanted to do personalized stories on every victim, we may not find family members willing to speak. We may not find pictures. The story may not get anyone’s attention. That’s why it’s important to focus on larger problems of poverty, education, drug policy, segregation, and more. Those “city stories” also tell the story of lives lost.

Where the media devotes its resources sends a message. How it chooses to cover certain things sends a message. It sent one to me when I was in high school. It is surely sending that message to other teenagers watching every day.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– If casinos are supposed to be cash cows for local governments, why do they need tax breaks?

– Stop The Cap takes on Adam McFadden for writing a letter in support of Comcast’s takeover of Time Warner. (McFadden told me he simply hates Time Warner and Comcast does not give that much money to his group.)

– Syracuse’s mayor is exploring municipal broadband.

– Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy has discovered Twitter. It turns out, he’s pretty good at it! Even better, his boss hasn’t tried to rein him in.

– The Cuomo administration is deleting all emails after 90 days, raising issues about records preservation.

– The New York Times editorial board calls on Cuomo to stop trying to throw his Democratic primary challenger off the ballot.

– This is why call centers are bad economic development. Xerox is laying off 468 people in Houston.

– An orthopedic surgeon writes about the growing number of children who have sports-related injuries. His advice to parents is to chill out.

– A mom is reading her emails on her phone while her kid plays at the park. Give her a break!

Crime Scene TapeRochester has a particularly violent month. Eight people have been killed since August 3. Homicides are shocking and devastating and the most high profile measurement of crime in a community.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to look at historical trends in violent crime to put recent violence in perspective. Here is data from the FBI. The first chart is the number of violent crimes. Note the worst years for homicide came in the early ’90s. The best year was 1999. (So far in 2013, 27 people have been killed. In 2012, 36 people were killed.)

 

murdernumber

 

 

This chart looks at the the number of crimes per capita – the violent crime rate:

 

murder rate

 

The data will mean different things to different people. Some will say it’s proof the city is a violent place. Others will say crime no worse today than it was 20 years ago – in fact it’s better.

 

Links of the Day:

– The NSA gets around encryption on websites many of us thought were secure. This is unbelievable.

“The U.S. government has betrayed the Internet.”

– Cuomo wants to get tough on failing schools, but never mentions deconcentrating poverty in schools.

Albany motels house the working poor.

– I interviewed a University of Rochester astrophysicist about why people like to deny science.

Black on black crime is an “epidemic” that doesn’t get enough attention, according to an important report in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall):

Their deaths are overshadowed by tragedies like the massacres at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater and the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, as well as the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. The latter case prompted nationwide outcry in part because of its racial aspect: Mr. Martin’s killer is white and Hispanic, and Mr. Martin was black.

(snip)

The Wall Street Journal found that the number of black male victims increased more than 10%, to 5,942 in 2010 from 5,307 in 2000.

Overall, more than half the nation’s homicide victims are African-American, though blacks make up only 13% of the population. Of those black murder victims, 85% were men, mostly young men.

(snip)

People who dismiss high homicide rates in poor, mostly black neighborhoods as someone else’s problem ignore the cost to society, from police efforts to social services for victims’ families, said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank that conducts research on criminal justice initiatives. His group calculated the national cost for gun homicides alone in 2010 was more than $43 billion. That encompasses victim costs like lost productivity and medical care, as well as costs for police, prosecution, courts and prison. It also includes costs to the offender’s family.

A 2009 study by Iowa State analyzing other data estimated that a single murder runs up more than $17 million in costs to the police, courts, prisons, social services and to the families of victims and suspects.

This is not surprising in Rochester, where most homicide victims and suspects are far more likely to be young black men. The Wall Street Journal report found that programs providing employment and regular contact with clergy and police were effective. I was a disappointed the story didn’t address the impact of the illegal drug trade, which is directly and indirectly responsible for violence and street culture.

Rochester’s police chief recently recorded a video, which is similar to an op-ed he wrote, about black-on-black crime:

Links of the Day:

– Could Apple and Google be holding the price down on Kodak’s patents?

Craft beers can help local economies. 

– Generation Y can be extremely annoying in the workplace. Maybe that’s a good thing.

– A lost Albany cockatiel found its way home after landing on a state trooper’s head.

– New York state’s new concussion law doesn’t apply to little leagues.

– The best story of the day is about Senator Chuck Schumer’s matchmaking skills among his staff. 

More Links of the Day:

– The Kodak news continued to roll:

Kodak may emerge from bankruptcy with no ties to photography, speculate some analysts in MarketWatch:

If that happens, and Kodak emerges, consumers can kiss the remaining remnants of the company’s photographic business good bye.

“Forget about it. It’s not making money now,” said Mark Kaufman, analyst for Rafferty Capital Markets.

(snip)

“It’s not a consumer business, its business-to-business,” Kaufman said. “That’s what you’re going to have.”

The Atlantic asks “What Killed Kodak?” The author describes a headquarters “cloistered in sleepy Rochester.”

The Wall Street Journal profiled several ex-Kodak workers to see how their lives are faring.

Kodak spokesman Gerard Meuchner resigned.

Moody’s has again downgraded Kodak.

The Washington Post talked to photographers mourning the great company.

– Rochester will host the Republican State Convention this year. I wonder what Main Street will look like? Maybe they can plant some grass at Midtown by then.

– I revisited my old stomping grounds, Richmond’s. It has reopened and undergone a beautiful remodeling. Former regulars will laugh at hearing there’s now a chef who sautees things on the grill. Don’t worry, you can still order the famous wings. I wish the new owners the best of luck.

– I was saddened to learn the city’s first homicide victim of the year was in my graduating class at John Marshall High School. I have not seen James McNair in many years, but was heartbroken to read he was a well-respected youth mentor and innocent victim. Rest in peace, James.

More links of note today:

– Two members of the Kodak board who represented KKR’s stake in the company and were supposed to help lead a turnaround resigned today. From the Wall Street Journal:

The men obtained their seats after KKR helped Kodak with a fresh injection of funds needed to weather the recession.

Kodak is again seeking funds as an expensive turnaround burns through its cash. The resignations signal KKR isn’t planning to step in this time.

Messrs. Chen and Clammer are young and tech-focused, the type of directors Kodak needed as it tried to make the transition from an analog film company to one that focused on digital products, people familiar with the matter said.

– The Democrat and Chronicle obtained the police report of Airport Director Susan Walsh’s arrest. Excerpt from article:

…she explained the vehicle was not hers and asked him to help her.

“I asked her what she wanted help with and she looked up and me and said, ‘You know what I mean,’ ” the officer, Michael Brandenburg, wrote in his report. “As she was speaking, I could smell a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from her breath and her speech was mumbled and slurred. I also observed that her eyes were glassy, bloodshot and watery.”

– Rochester has had 29 homicides so far this year. It’s one of the less violent years in the city’s recent history. In the early ’90s we had several years with more than 60 homicides. I crunched some numbers in a 13WHAM News post.