In 2015, The Gazette reported on two possible burglaries on the same day. For one burglary, three white University of Iowa wrestlers were arrested with charges pending. For the other burglary, four black men were arrested.
Same crime. Same day, but very different pictures used to show the suspects.
The white suspects are dressed in suits and ties. It appears as though these might be pictures from their wrestling team photos. None of their mugshots were used when the pictures were released. The black suspects are dressed in t-shirts, and their mugshots are used to identify them.
This is clear bias that humanizes the white suspects, and criminalizes the black suspects. The media has the ability to shape public perception. The media’s choice of what visual representation of a person is used can significantly shape one’s opinion of that person. By choosing to use the white players’ professional photos they painted the suspects as “good kids”. However, the black men were left to be viewed as criminals when their mugshots were used. This is a clear example of media bias.
This incident may have happened in 2015, however, this is an ongoing problem in the media. After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and Las Vegas music festival shooting, some were left wondering why they saw so many humanizing photos of the suspects in the media. Simply turn on your local nightly news and you may spot a difference in the photos used for different kinds of people.
Despite where a person comes from, their race, and gender, there needs to be a standard for what photos are used for suspects in an investigation. In my opinion, it either needs to be mugshots or photos from the family used at all times.
I believe the use of mugshots is a better standard to have. The photos are fairly uniform and would be representing every suspect in the same way.
What if the station doesn’t have the mugshot yet?
Then, they release the names of the suspects and wait until they have the mugshot to use it. Now of course, if someone has escaped from custody and they are looking for the person then it makes sense to use whatever photo is most readily available. However, when no one is in any imminent threat from the suspect, the news station should wait until they have the mugshot to release a photo. Using mugshots for all suspects eliminates any potential bias and does not sway public opinion on the person’s guilt or innocence.
As a person of color, it is sickening to see persons of color be criminalized in comparison to their white counterparts in the media. When I see a mugshot, I think criminal. When I see young men in suits, I think young men who might have had a bright future ahead of them.
The media needs to be held accountable for when and how they choose to use mugshots because it impacts public perception and opinion.
Media Matters found that African-American suspects in TV News Crime Reports is over-representative of the actual amount of suspects arrested who were African-American.
This in combination with mugshots being used in a bias manner taints audiences’ perceptions of African-Americans.