The Tale of Two School Shootings: Separate and Unequal
January 25, 2011
Two shootings at or near schools in Los Angeles last week highlight how the media sometimes fail to dig below the surface when a Black male youth is involved.
On Tuesday a 17-year old sophomore was arrested at Gardena High School when a gun he was carrying in his backpack went off, wounding two classmates. The teenager is charged with possessing and discharging a gun in a school zone, both felonies.
On Wednesday, a school police officer was shot near El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, a community arguably more affluent than Gardena. The officer was wearing a bulletproof vest and was not seriously injured. The suspect escaped.
Both schools were locked down after the incidents but media reports on El Camino focused on how the students were kept in the classrooms for hours and were not allowed out to use the restrooms. School superintendent Ramon Cortines rushed to the scene to answer media questions.
After the initial stories about the shooting at Gardena, many journalists reported that this was not the first time the student had brought a gun to school.
“Some media representatives are saying, ‘this is Gardena High, a school in an urban area,’” according to Dr. Gabriel Crenshaw, a clinical psychologist with Los Angeles Southwest College who has worked with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “So there’s almost a level of expectation (in the media) that the kid is bringing the gun to school and the only reason is ‘because you’ve got a bunch of hoodlums and gangsters in here.’
Dr. Crenshaw believes, while the media is right to report what happened at Gardena High, he believes it is treating the 17-year old differently than it does in cases where White suspects are involved with guns.
“Look at Columbine, look at Tucson. What the media does, there is a level where they “humanize” the suspect when it is a Caucasian incident. The actions are described as aberrant behavior.”
In the case of the 17-year old, media reports said he was on misdemeanor probation because of a school fight, had brought a gun to school before, is now in juvenile hall facing felony charges and prosecutors want to try him as an adult.
Police said he and his mother are cooperating. He reportedly told them he carried the gun because of unspecified threats but officers have said they don’t believe he planned to use it.
Dr. Crenshaw, who is a contributor to ‘Lifechangers’ on Extra, does not blame the media for what this young man did. But he believes reporters should put it in context.
“You can’t be a reporter and not know the area and the circumstances that allow that particular environment to exist,” he said.
“I’ve got some kids in financially depressed areas like this where their physical being is in danger just trying to get to school. They can be ridiculed, they can be shot, and they can be stabbed just because they’ve got a schoolbook.”
So, while the youth was wrong to be armed, Crenshaw said media reports feed the stereotype that, “African American children, as compared to their White counterparts, are inferior. You start to hear that as a kid and you think, ‘why try?’ We call it learned helplessness.”
It didn’t escape the students’ attention that the superintendent Cortines went to El Camino Real on Wednesday but did not come to Gardena on Tuesday.
“Deputy superintendent John Deasy visited Gardena the day after the shooting,” said Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Monica Carazo. She could not explain why Superintendent Cortines would show up the same day of the shooting near El Camino but not go at all to Gardena.
Dr. Crenshaw said he is not surprised and neither are Gardena parents he saw on Sunday or school children he’s talked to in the past.
“I have polled some students,” he said. “You can ask a 12-year old, ‘if an officer had been shot in the vicinity of your school in South Central L.A., do you think the superintendent of schools would have come and they all will tell you, ‘No. They don’t care about us that much.”
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@brokeymcpoverty You can probably end that sentence at Maury.
Black man is hero. News media, nation seem mystified. It flies in the face of usual distorted media depiction #Ramsey http://t.co/RerQL9WEGG
@SherriEShepherd Childless by choice & always happy 2 help those w/kids before going to my quiet house Thx for keeping the human race going!