Thugs, Crooks, and Rebellious Negroes: Racist and Racialized Media Coverage of Michael Brown and the Ferguson Demonstrations
The article explores how the media constructs news, and offers extensive history on the adverse narrative media tropes about Black men since colonial newspapers. Through qualitative and quantitative analysis of news narratives and images, this article demonstrates how Ferguson accounts emphasized Brown’s deviance and chaos and disorder. After offering comparative analysis of White criminality and protest news narratives, the article presses upon the social effects of racist and racialized media narratives. The article examines the controversy through First Amendment free speech, hate crimes, and true threat principles as well as FCC regulation of broadcasting, and media ownership. While explicating the First Amendment, regulatory and institutional barriers to curing the harms created, the article arrives upon promising institutional and extra-institutional reforms which can at least provide robust counter-narratives. This article examines the effects of the media’s insistent framing of African-Americans engaged in illegitimate, irrational, and even criminal expressions of dissent. In doing so, the author contends that in rationalizing and restructuring African-American deviance and dissent, the media reasserted a majoritarian ideology in which Whiteness — upon which our social, political, and economic institutions are constructed — maintained its status as the dominant order, and law enforcement responses to “disorder” were endowed with a presumptive correctness. In hewing to a pro-majoritarian orthodoxy, the media ignored the role institutional racism and implicit bias played in Brown’s death. Simultaneously, the media sublimated the more urgent socio-political grievances demonstrators sought to surface around law enforcement and the justice system. This article seeks to impress upon the reader the most injurious long-term impact of the news media approach to the Ferguson saga. As a basis of discourse, news is just one type of media content that enables a society to build consensus (if not agreement) over myriad social problems, and solutions to those problems. By constructing Brown as the blameworthy ‘victim’ from the outset, and through unrelenting focus upon Ferguson looting and criminality, the media subverted and derailed any real opportunity to have a meaningful discourses around race, law enforcement and justice system reform, or the myriad social, political, and economic issues Ferguson came to symbolize.
Thugs, Crooks, and Rebellious Negroes: Racist and Racialized Media Coverage of Michael Brown and the Ferguson Demonstrations, 32 HARV. J. RACIAL & ETHNIC JUST. 189