On August 14, eight people were shot outside a downtown Buffalo bar. Four died. A week later, the Buffalo News ran a story detailing the criminal records of 7 of the 8 victims, and it wasn’t shoplifting and jaywalking. Five of them had felony convictions and a fair amount of gun use was involved.
That story spurred a march on the offices of the News by 75 people. That, in turn, caused the News’ editor to write a long defense of their news judgment and to request, and attend, a community meeting about the story. Here’s the News’ editor comment about that event:
And I also hope that we can now start a healing process where we can move this conversation forward, and I think that we’ve actually taken some steps to do that by agreeing to have some meetings and to do some research about what The Buffalo News prints about the African-American community.
This “let the healing begin” rhetoric is the textbook definition of a sop. What’s going on in the News is painfully obvious and probably isn’t going to change.
Like a number of other urban communities, Buffalo has a problem with minority-on-minority, often drug-related violence. In Rochester, for example, the homicide map is almost an exact outline of “bad neighborhoods”. Given the isolation of violence in these cities, when a murder happens, the vast majority of readers want to know if it’s in a bad neighborhood. If it isn’t — and the Buffalo murders weren’t — readers want to know if the people involved were in the life. If the murder happened in a bad neighborhood or involved people with criminal records, it just gets filed away as something explicable as well as something that won’t happen to the average reader.
Of course, this angers minority communities, because the vast majority of people who live there are law-abiding, hard-working people, some of whom are killed in the crossfire when bullets fly. But I can’t see how that makes the newspapers a legitimate target of righteous anger. I’m not a regular reader of the Buffalo News, but even Rochester’s sad-sack corporate rag is full of stories about the struggles of the inner city. They’re happy to jump on any possible remedy to poverty and crime, any little ember of hope is nurtured and enhanced by a sympathetic feature, and they post long, well-written tributes to those who are caught in the crossfire.
The sad fact is that the Buffalo News is giving the people what they want and need: context, in the form of code-words that classify the violence that is in large part a side-effect of drug prohibition.