Harris-Perry: What role does race play in gun violence reporting?

By David Ferguson
Saturday, December 29, 2012 15:52 EDT
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Harris-Perry on guns in Chicago
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Saturday morning on MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry,” host Harris-Perry and a panel including Joy Reid of “The Grio” and “Huffpost Live” host Alicia Mendez discussed the role of race in media reporting and its impact on the gun violence debate, both with regards to the people reporting the news and the people that the news is reporting about.

Harris-Perry opened the segment by discussing Friday morning’s announcement that the city of Chicago had reached the “tragic number” of 500 homicides in the year 2012. The news came out early in the day, only to be abruptly contradicted by a second report from the Chicago Police Department that maintained that only 499 deaths in the city had been deemed homicides and one was still under investigation.

“Whew!” she quipped, “Thank god it’s only 499 and not 500! We can all rest easy in the Windy City tonight!”

Or not, because in the afternoon, a third report was issued “to conclude the roller coaster of bad PR,” said Harris-Perry, department officials walked back their earlier statement and conceded that, yes, Chicago had seen 500 homicides in 2012. It is “a tragic number that is reflective of the gang violence and proliferation of illegal guns that have plagued some of our neighborhoods,” said Chicago Police Superintendant Gerry McCarthy.

The back and forth and insistence on niggling details, said Harris-Perry, is indicative of how important it is to the city of Chicago to get honest reporting to the public about the nature of the city’s gun problem.

“It matters to them how it is reported,” she said, “It matters because we’re talking about economic development and tax base and all of that.”

“As the head of a black information source,” she said to Joy Reid, “As the head of ‘The Grio,’ how do you make that decision between on the one hand not wanting to make our communities seem, like, criminalized havens, and on the other hand needing to report the truth of what’s going on in our communities?”

“Yeah, it’s funny, because you know there’s this sort of human proclivity,” Reid replied, “for round numbers and false anniversaries. As an editor, 500 is more of an easier and more sellable headline, so you gravitate toward it, but yeah, we’ve had this issue this issue with Chicago for a while at ‘The Grio.’ We’re trying to report this steady stream of violence without, as you’re saying, turning Chicago into a caricature.”

She said that it’s different for her organization than it is for a magazine like Jet, which comes out on its print date and discussion is closed until the next issue. “Whereas we could do this every day,” at the Grio, “and we could report on death and mayhem in the African-American community every day, but we’re trying to balance that with a more holistic narrative of who black people are.”

Harris-Perry turned to Mendez and asked for her thoughts on the fact that turning to African-American media outlets, Spanish-language media outlets and Progressive media outlets, you hear stories that you don’t hear in the mainstream media.

Mendez said that she believes that progress is being made, in that someone like Harris-Perry herself is perceived as being part of mainstream media, but having an eye on her own community.

“I remember,” said Mendez, “During the Trayvon Martin case, you said, ‘You will remember his name.’ And that was a rallying cry for the rest of the media to realize that this was going to be an important story, not just in the black community, but for America at large.”

Mendez pointed to the murder of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Virginia as evidence of a story that has gone under-reported in the mainstream media. She said that people like herself, a person of Hispanic descent working in mainstream media, have a responsibility to bring these stories to light.

Watch the clip, embedded via MSNBC, below:

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David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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