Dawsey: Two deaths, unequal reactions, reveal media double-standard

Here's something we had been thinking about over the holiday break, while watching the media coverage of 16-year-old Grosse Pointe resident Paige Stalker's shooting death on Detroit's east side: Would the coverage have been the same if the victim had been a black teenager from the suburbs?

The thing is, we knew it wouldn't have been. 

How could we have known? Because, before the break, we saw a news item about a black teenager from Sterling Heights who was discovered shot in the head in Detroit. The report said he had moved there just a week earlier, and was a kind and athletic student who had graduated just last year. Like Stalker, he had his whole life ahead of him. But the only report we could find was the one from the Macomb Daily, which, while sympathetic, did not make any emotional appeal based on his youth. In fact, the headline described the 19-year-old as a "man." (A petty complaint, perhaps. But, if you can stomach it, dare to click on the comments and see how unsympathetic things can really get. Stay classy, Macomb County.)

So, watching the TV news reporting on Stalker (which continues today, with her mother's first public statement, a plea for tips, etc.), we knew that the murder of a black suburban teen in Detroit simply wouldn't get the same, heavy coverage of a white suburban teen in Detroit. (Think that's not so? It's such an engrained media habit that The Onion lampooned it more than a decade ago.)

It really got us thinking that the mainstream media in Detroit are getting sloppy. When you have protests all over the United States declaring that "Black Lives Matter," is it wise to lavish coverage on a white girl who was allegedly smoking weed in a car in Detroit, while black folks are shot all the time? If we worked for those stations, we'd be making damn sure we didn't appear to be perpetuating that double standard. Or so we felt over the last week.

So while we were shaking our heads about it over the break, look what Deadline Detroit's Darrell Dawsey did: He found an even more similar example of a young African-American woman murdered in Detroit, sitting in a car, no less, and compared the news coverage in a slammed-to-the-canvas takedown of the mainstream media's double-standard on race. 

Dawsey writes:

[W]hile I certainly agree that Stalker’s death deserves our notice, let’s keep it real: Many in metro Detroit are drawn to the story because they just can’t fathom why the city streets would take out a rosy-cheeked white girl from an affluent suburb.

A black woman being killed? Nothing new to see there, right?

Reading the reports about Stalker’s death, I saw where someone said that the fatal shooting wasn’t “supposed to” happen to Stalker. I understand that feeling.

But if such a violent death isn’t “supposed to” happen to young women like Stalker then who is it “supposed to” happen to? And does this sentiment make it that much easier for the media to dismiss — or at least miss — the deaths of young black women like Samuel?

It's a good question, one that should be reverberating through the halls of our local newspapers and television news offices. 

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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