How Not to Do Social Justice

Here’s a two-year-old article from Atlanta Magazine about how two non-black victims of homicide and attempted homicide in May 2013 received more coverage than the two black men who were shot and killed during the same time period. The white murder victim was Patrick Corona, who was shot during an armed robbery in East Atlanta, the center of hipster gentrification and a hot spot for such crimes. Atlanta Magazine earlier had observed that over a hundred people showed up for a vigil for Corona, and then that a reward had been posted:

After East Atlanta Village resident Patrick Cotrona was fatally shot last May, his sister Kate Cotrona Krumm drew attention to his case by posting a poignant hand-lettered sign on a telephone pole near the spot where her brother died. Block letters on a big sheet of cardboard paid tribute to a “brother and a kind and loving son and uncle and friend,” a Georgia Tech grad and computer engineer who “loved video games and beer.”

On Thursday afternoon, Krumm unveiled another sign—a massive billboard advertising a $25,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest of two people suspected in the death of her brother.

Cotrona’s death and the other man’s shooting got the attention of media and politicians; the other two men’s deaths did not. Blogger Mark Watkins starts off with some good journalism by giving us how each of the two black men died:

According to police, twenty-seven year-old Henry Omar Reeves was shot and killed just before midnight on May 18. Police and EMS responded to a 911 call of shots fired and person down in East Atlanta Village, and found Reeves on Metropolitan Avenue, dead with a gunshot wound to the chest. He was killed the day after Balkhanian was shot and less than a mile from where Cotrona was killed seven days later.

Drexel L. Berry died Wednesday, May 29, after being shot multiple times on Cooper Street, according to police. Around 2:30 that afternoon, Berry ran to a house on Pryor Street after being shot in the leg, arm, and back. He was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital, but died of his wounds. Berry, twenty-four, was shot less than a mile to the west of Turner Field, and less than two miles from where Balkhanian was shot.

This is great: let’s hear more. What led to these men ending up dead by shooting like approximately 100 other Atlantans in 2013? Was it love, or money, or robbery? That’s probably the case for 90% of them. Maybe there was something weird like the kind of stuff I come up with in my stories. It’s always possible, but most murders are prosaic.

Unfortunately, Watkins doesn’t bother to follow up. Instead, he goes for the now-standard (though not untrue) refrain that murders of non-blacks garner more attention than those of blacks:

Considering the similarities in time and location of the other two murders and that of Cotrona, it seems one notable difference is that Berry and Reeves were black. As it has been frequently observed, media coverage favors white victims.

Right: yes, it does. But why is the question Watkins doesn’t get to, any more than he does that of why Reeves and Berry were murdered. Why are murders of whites covered more? Well, racism is undeniably a part of it. But there’s also what’s news. Here are Atlanta Magazine‘s own stats on crime (for 2014, very similar to 2013). Of 84 murders, 65 were men who died of gunshot wounds, and at least 70 of the victims were black. Even more tellingly, 65 of the murders also had someone in custody at year’s end.

So yes, a black Georgia Tech graduate who liked video games and beer would probably get fewer politicians and column inches, though one would certainly hope the neighborhood would turn out for the vigil. But only some of that is due to everyday racism. The fact is that a white man dying in an as-yet (and still) unsolved murder is a statistical anomaly, and that’s a big reason why it raised so much attention.

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