Rutgers’ study links media images to how Black men are negatively viewed by police
Study author suggests that media may play a significant role in disproportionate deaths of unarmed Black men.
The way that Black men are portrayed in the media contributes to a negative stereotype that affects how the police treats them, says a Rutgers School of Public Health study.
The report which was published in late November in the book “Research in Race and Ethnic Relations” asserts that officers often respond to African American men with lethal and excessive force because of the prejudiced perceptions about them, according to Phys.org.
“Unarmed Black Americans are five times more likely to be shot and killed by police than unarmed white Americans,” said professor Pamela Valera, a lead author of the study. “We believe that media may play a significant role in these disproportionate deaths.”
She added: “The stereotypes held, consciously or unconsciously, about the criminality and ‘dangerousness’ of Black men influence the rates at which they are stopped and engaged by the police.”
For Black men, the study says, their masculinity is often likened with criminality, machismo, and hyper- sexuality.
Researchers reviewed the case of unarmed teen Michael Brown, who was shot by a white police officer Darren Wilson in 2014, for part of their study. They reviewed three newspapers The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times because of its influence and how the outlets affect public opinion, the report stated.
According to Rutgers, “The research analyzed how the race, physicality and masculinity of Brown and Wilson were presented in media coverage of Brown’s death and Wilson’s testimony. The researchers analyzed 40 articles from the three newspapers, taking into account which voices were given space in each article. On subsequent readings, a codebook was developed containing codes that capture the masculinity, physicality, class and race of Brown and Wilson. It concluded that negative race-based perceptions perpetuated by the media may have contributed to Brown’s death.”
“Newspapers use sensational words to get hits,” Valera explained. “However, the words they used depicted Brown as a monster.”
The report stated that the influential outlets painted the Black teen not only as “monster” but in one report made a comparison saying that the officer holding Brown in his arms was like to “a 5-year-old trying to hold on to Hulk Hogan.”
The negativity continued with how Brown’s community was portrayed in one piece as “trappings of a working-class haven” with an “edge of frustration and anger.”
Wilson, the cop, on the other hand was depicted as someone who survived a difficult childhood to overcome and to live a splendid middle-class suburban life in a neighborhood with pretty “brick ranch-style homes” and “manicured lawns.”
“Since the perceptions that Wilson held of Brown are indicative of more general attitudes of black men, it is vital that police be engaged in more intensive training to become aware of the stereotypes and implicit biases they hold, especially regarding the communities with which they have constant contact,” Valera concludes.