Credo Action

Tell traditional corporate media: Stop blaming victims like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

Sign the petition

To executives of CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal:

"Reassess your coverage policies around incidents of police killings, and stop victim-blaming practices by ceasing to cover unrelated past criminal history of victims and ceasing to use old and unrelated mugshots for victims of police violence."

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    Tell traditional corporate media: Stop blaming victims like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

    In the days after the Baton Rouge police killed Alton Sterling, some traditional corporate media outlets filled the airwaves with talk about whether he had a “history of violence,” and even said Sterling “has to take responsibility” for his own death.1,2

    Corporate media regularly rush to offer excuses when people of color die at the hands of the police. In the days following, we are shown the most unflattering pictures, informed of all past run-ins with law enforcement, and told that the victim was “no angel.”3 Now it’s happening again, after the inexcusable deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.4

    This journalistic malpractice undermines the case for common sense police reforms and paints all people of color as dangerous and violent, making it more likely that police will use deadly force in the future. It’s time for big traditional corporate media outlets to take responsibility for their biased reporting, so we’re teaming up with our friends at ColorOfChange to demand that the corporate media change its policies and stop the victim-blaming.

    Tell traditional corporate media: Stop blaming victims like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

    The last several weeks have been filled with violence and tragedy. While many will use the tragic killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge to undermine and discredit the peaceful movement for Black lives, it’s more important than ever that progressives take a powerful stand in support of African-Americans' fight for freedom and equality.

    It’s not just right-wing media that criminalize African-American victims. The New York Times said that Michael Brown “was no angel,” as if that somehow excused his death.5 The outrageous double standard led to a viral social media hashtag in 2014, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, where African-Americans shared pictures of themselves and the unflattering photos they suspected the media would use if they were killed.6 Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and so many others have also had their character attacked, misleading photos blasted over the airwaves, and arrest records dredged up.

    Traditional corporate media outlets seem to deliberately go looking for this material in the wake of police shootings. So it is long past time for major national media outlets to take a long, hard look at their coverage policies and committ to stop victim-blaming practices like publicizing unrelated mugshots or interactions with law enforcement.

    Dehumanizing and criminalizing people of color, especially African-Americans, who are victims of police brutality, saps outrage and robs activists of badly needed support for their detailed proposals to reform policing. It fuels both outright racism and implicit bias, the stereotypes that influence our behavior on an unconscious level. And as our friends at ColorOfChange put it in a recent email, it “ensures that police and the public continue to see Black folks as violent people who deserve police brutality.”7

    Tell traditional corporate media: Stop blaming victims like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Click here to sign the petition.

    The deaths of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are horrific tragedies. Even as they cause us to mourn and re-examine our nation’s gun policies and the devastating effects of systemic racism, they show the media’s double standard. While white men who commit atrocities or target police officers are almost always deemed “lone wolves,” media outlets are quick to insist that African-American shooters must be part of the movement for Black lives, which informed observers know has been committed to nonviolence and peaceful demonstration.8

    Without concrete and public commitments to changing their policies, traditional corporate media outlets will continue to produce bad stories that fuel racism. We need to show that Americans stand united in our outrage.

    Tell traditional corporate media: Stop blaming victims like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

    Thank you for speaking out,

    1. David Edwards, “CNN digs up old mug shot of Louisiana man killed by police: ‘Does he have a history of violence?’,” RawStory, July 6, 2016.
    2. Media Matters Staff, “Fox’s Mark Fuhrman Says Alton Sterling ‘Has To Take Responsibility’ For His Own Death At Hands Of Cops,” Media Matters, July 7, 2016.
    3. Adam Johnson, “5 Times the Media Has Smeared Black Victims of Police Killings Since Michael Brown,” AlterNet, August 6, 2015.
    4. Media Matters Staff, “CBS Report On Police Shooting Of Alton Sterling Inappropriately Highlights Victim's Record,” Media Matters, July 7, 2016.
    5. Johnson, “5 Times the Media Has Smeared Black Victims of Police Killings Since Michael Brown.”
    6. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, Tumblr.com.
    7. Brandi Collins, “Stop victim-blaming Alton Sterling and Philando Castile,” ColorOfChange.org email, July 12, 2016.
    8. Jason Silverstein, “Rudy Giuliani says black children have a ‘99% chance’ of killing each other, calls Black Lives Matter ‘inherently racist’,” New York Daily News, July 10, 2016.