Does attention to shooting miss the mark?
Yesterday’s daytime fatal shooting of a taxi driver near the Prudential Center in Boston was the top story among local media outlets throughout the day and it’s the lead front-page story in both Boston daily newspapers this morning.
The argument for the flood-the-zone coverage, of course, is that the more out of the ordinary an event, the more newsworthy it is.
By that measure, it’s certainly true that daytime shootings in the Back Bay are unusual. But it’s hard to ignore the obvious disparity between this coverage and that given to the dozens of other homicides that occur in the city each year, and hard to avoid the sense, at least as projected by media attention, that gun mayhem is to be expected in crime-prone neighborhoods and lives lost to it there are cheaper.
The Globe account of yesterday’s killing listed no fewer than nine reporters who contributed to the story. The story in the Herald, with its depleted newsroom ranks, had three reporters in the byline.
“It’s shocking because in Boston, it doesn’t happen,” Joe Litvack, treasure of the Independent Taxi Operators Association, told the Globe. “This type of thing just doesn’t happen here, it’s not the usual thing for cab drivers anymore to have worry about this type of thing.”
It’s certainly true that such attacks on cab drivers are not common in the city. But the high-profile coverage of the killing seemed as much driven by its daytime occurrence and its location — in a downtown area filled with shoppers, tourists, and white-collar workers who don’t expect gunshots as background sounds of the city.
There was an echo in Tuesday’s incident to a shooting 20 years ago in very nearly the same spot. In January 1999, a 15-year-old Roxbury teen was shot and wounded in the glass walkway to the Copley Place mall. A 14-year-old was arrested.
Even the Boston clergy working then on the frontlines to stem youth violence were taken aback by the location of the shooting.
“The unspoken rule of the terms of engagement has been broken,” Rev. Eugene Rivers, cofounder of Boston’s Ten Point Coalition, told the Globe.”There is general understanding the neighborhood-based violence is contained, although [not] accepted,” he said, “and you don’t bring violence and mayhem in neutral areas.”
The fact is that we have normalized “neighborhood-based violence” — as long as it occurs in certain neighborhoods.
Following last week’s killing of 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal office, Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren both pushed back at the outsized attention given to mass shootings, which account for only a tiny share of gun deaths in the US.
Warren was asked about the Virginia Beach shootings on Saturday at a state Democratic Party convention in California. “It’s not just mass shootings,” she said, adding that each day in America, gun violence occurs “on sidewalks and playgrounds and people’s backyards. It’s happening family by family across the country. And it doesn’t get the same headlines. And that is wrong.”
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