I am not a huge fan of Nancy Grace and the grim tales of grizzly homicides, graphic criminal acts, and disturbed cases that she covers regularly on her show on the CNN-owned HLN cable network. Touted as the “news and views network,” this type of television is definitely not my style, but as one of the many adults who have moved back to the nest I am always subjugated to the media that my mother consumes on an oft-too-repetitive basis.
It was under these auspices that I learned of the now nationalized and sensationalized Jodi Arias murder trial in Arizona. Arias was accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in his Mesa, Arizona home back in June 2008 and admitted to committing the crime in 2010. There are many sources on the intricacies of the case and of course Arias has a Wikipedia page, a visual timeline to catch you up on the alleged details, there is an entire Law & Order script waiting to happen on Huffington Post and Nancy Grace has plenty of videos, opinions, and ‘source material’ on the trial.
Now, I was not privy to these details at first, so my mother actually had to inform me that Arias was already guilty and this trial was to determine whether her punishment would be the death penalty or not. When I learned that this was the reason for all this media fodder it angered me for several reasons and raised serious questions. Labeled as the “most-watched” criminal trial since the Casey Anthony case by more than a few web sources, this trial also throws more spotlight on the demographic populations that have the ability to draw this type of media attention in the first place. According to Human Rights Watch, black women are incarcerated at rates between ten and thirty-five times greater than the rates of white women in fifteen states, and the racial composition of mass incarceration reveals major racial disparities when looking at the population overall.
But women like Casey Anthony and Jodi Arias get unrivaled media coverage while the stories of people of color like Trayvon Martin, Kimani Gray in Brooklyn, and even that of the falsely accused Brian Banks (who spent 5 years in prison but now has an NFL contract) get relegated to local media and smaller media outlets. Why do some murder stories get paraded and lauded as soap operas in front of our screens on a daily basis, and not others? How can there be this many opinions on one case with a confessed murderer, while other eyewitness accounts in the shooting of Kimani Gray by police officers do not even make it into the mainstream account of events on network news? How much of this is dictated by race, and how much by the capacity to pay for high-priced lawyers in a system that does not seem blind at all to an entire group of people but can find all types of caveats for another? If Jodi Arias was Latina or African-American would we even be hearing or seeing this? When Stanley “Tookie” Williams, who offered to call a truce between the long-standing Crip and Blood gangs in California, was denied clemency, how long did it take for that story to fade into legal oblivion? Above all else where does the dignity of the victims rest in any and all of these cases? Who is the one dictating to us as media consumers what a victim is and who plays that part?
For any murder trial (especially one this disturbing) to be able to garner fans and a following; for a victim who has been butchered to be paraded around long after his death while his family still attends trial everyday; for the extent of the law to be so vast that a homeless woman can get sentenced for 5 years prison for falsely sending her child to a better school district, demonstrates the true reality check that is needed by us as media consumers and also as citizens of a democratic state. What are we not seeing?
The numbers of incarceration paint a grim enough picture for this country. As the government dances around the issue of violence and gun control, how does promoting something like this not send its own message?
— Anne Desrosiers
Anne Desrosiers is the founder and Executive Director of The World is Your Oyster, nonprofit consultant and former Americorps Volunteer in Service to America. As an avid media consumer, Anne enjoys engaging in the critique and debate of improving what we see, hear and eventually become as a result of media and its influence on our lives.