John R. Lott Jr., Real Clear Politics, July 8, 2020
On Saturday, a man drove his car onto a Seattle freeway that had been closed by a Black Lives Matter crowd. The driver killed one person and seriously injured another after going the wrong way up a ramp and then around a barricade. Reports noted that police “don’t believe impairment was a factor.” Over the weekend, news outlets replayed the brutal hit, but there’s one thing you won’t learn from their coverage: The driver was black and his victims were white.
NPR linked this attack to other car-ramming incidents by “right-wing extremists targeting Black Lives Matter protesters.” They quote a researcher about how these right-wingers were “trying to intimidate the most recent wave of BLM protesters, to stop their movement.”
The driver was a Seattle local named Dawit Kelete. But you’ll find scant mention of the driver’s ethnicity in mainstream media coverage. You might have more easily learned that Kelete was black by going to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation. The American national media also doesn’t note that Kelete’s two victims were white. You can find that out over at the U.K.’s Daily Mail.
Research conducted by the Crime Prevention Research Center, of which I am president, on all police shootings from 2013 to 2015 found that while local news coverage will often mention the race of the officer and the suspect, the national coverage is much more selective. While the evidence indicates that black officers are no less likely to shoot suspects than white officers, local news coverage of black officers shooting black suspects gets picked up by the national news in just 9% of cases. By contrast, 38% of the cases in which local news reported on a white officer shooting a black suspect get national coverage.
The media’s selective coverage has done real harm. It has heightened racial divides and sown distrust of the police in the communities that need them most. Now, with police sidelined and facing “defunding,” gun violence is rising fast in major cities around the country.