On December 26th 2017, in New York, a couple and their two children, a 5-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy, were found dead in their home. Their mother, Shanta Myers, and her girlfriend, Brandi Mells, were found tied-up in the basement of their apartment, with their throats cut.
This horrific murder has deeply saddened the community. However, this tragedy has a further element of injustice: media bias. With minimal reporting, the mainstream media have deemed that this crime isn’t newsworthy. I argue that, as black lesbians, Meyer and Mells have been rendered invisible and, therefore, their tragic death has been wrongly under-reported.
“After being in this business for 43 years, I can’t describe the savagery of a person who would do this,” said John Tedesco, the Police Chief of Troy, New York. Its undeniable that this is a crime that deserves to be reported. However, even when a small (and insufficient) amount of news coverage was finally made, videos depicted neighbors who seemed hesitant to say that Myers and Mells were a couple. This is further symptom of the problem: important demographic details are swept aside and the truth is distorted. This, in itself, is an injustice. Surely this family deserve more. The least we can do is acknowledge this crime and raise awareness in order to achieve justice for them.
The lack of sufficient reporting is symptomatic of the medias bias against certain groups. This is especially problematic, given that the LGBTQ community is often targeted; according to an analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center, LGBTQ Americans experience hate crimes at 8.3 times the rate you’d expect based on the size of their population. But how can this issue gain attention if it isn’t properly reported? When a crime happens in the LGBTQ community, we must talk about it immediately and sufficiently, in order to raise awareness. This is the only way in which change can be achieved, so that the LGBTQ community are safe and that this kind of crime is properly tackled. Furthermore, it gives us the opportunity to show support.
This phenomenon is not isolated to the LGBTQ community. When crimes are commited against POC, the media is slow to mention the possibility of it being a hate crime. Why is that? With such high rates of hate crime, mainstream media must view such crimes as systemic, giving them the required level of attention, follow-through and focus. Christopher Benson, an associate professor of African-American Studies and Journalism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign explains it well, “hate crime is treated as a single event by a perpetrator or a group of perpetrators, instead of looking at it in the context of a lot of systemic problems.” I also believe there is some reluctance from the public to even accept the fact that these kinds of things need to be acknowledged, which brings us back to Shanta’s neighbors being hesitant to admit that they were a lesbian couple.
However, there are organizations who are trying to counteract the biased nature of mainstream media. Documenting Hate is a collaboration of more than 100 newsrooms nationwide. This nonprofit news organization puts forth its best efforts to collect better data to try to get a clearer sense of how many hate crimes and bias incidents really happen in the U.S. every year. This is shines light on a dark topic because we need more coverage of incidents such as these. Then there is ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. ProPublica shares the ‘tips’ with its partner news organizations and relies on them for follow-up reporting.
This coalition has given many media outlets the opportunity to either report on single incidents that took place in their communities or to add additional sources. ProPublica then gathers incident reports from news headlines, social media, civil-rights groups and law enforcement records, as well as hate-crime victims and witnesses. Each incident is treated as a ‘tip’ and entered into a database. Organizations like these are the best way to get stories like Shana and Brandi’s out into the media. To help support organizations like these, donate here or here.
Lastly, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the Myers family. JJ, loved basketball and was a regular at the Boys and Girls Club. He was “well-mannered, respectful, happy all the time”. He was “everybody’s friend, he always had a smile on his face, and he played a major role in the club, he was a quintessential club kid, he came here every day, often times he was the last to leave.” Another commenters stated that “everyone in the neighborhood loved and respected [Shanta], who worked as a bus monitor at one time.” Symes, Shanta’s sister said her sister was a “sweet, good-natured woman who loved to cook for family gatherings.”
Written by Taylor Christian