Why mugshot use matters

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Photo credit: Iowa Gazette

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. Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 6.50.24 PM.png

This in combination with mugshots being used in a bias manner taints audiences’ perceptions of African-Americans.


Oprah Winfrey changed my life (& many other lives)

Image from Creative Commons


I grew up with Oprah Winfrey on the television throughout the entire duration of my childhood. I remember racing from my room to the kitchen to tell my mom something. Before I was even halfway down the hall, I could hear the sound of Oprah’s voice coming from the television in the kitchen. Hence, I had two options. I could turn back around and go back to my room or I could wait until a commercial break to have my mom’s ear.


Growing up, I took for granted how revolutionary “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was. It wasn’t until the show ended after its’ 25 season run that I realized there was no one else like her on television. No one could interview Lance Armstrong and essentially get him to admit to his entire doping scandal except for Oprah. She forever changed day-time television. Her ability to interview anyone from a troubled family to famous celebrities, and get them to share intimate details about their lives was astounding.


Not only was she a talk show host, but she was a proud black woman. Her success was representative of the possibility for black women to succeed in the media industry. So while she might just be a household name to some people, she was so much more than that to me.


She was someone who looked like me on the television. Of course I was much younger, but she was a black woman on television. Not only that, but she had her own show, she called the shots and was not reading from a script.


Oprah Winfrey was incredibly skillful at her craft of interviewing. She could make any stranger sit on her couch and spill intimate details about their life like they were just catching up with an old friend. She made live on-air interviews look easy because of how comfortable she made her guests and how quickly they appeared to trust her.


Not only was she an incredible interviewer, but she was an incredible story teller. I still remember the special she did on the academy she opened for girls in South Africa. I remember because she made her audience remember by telling the stories of the girls who would be attending the school through interviewing the young girls about their everyday lives.


Her ability to transform interviews into telling an entire story is what made her an extraordinary communicator.


I hope that one day I will be an interviewer who people are comfortable confiding in so that I can share their stories. When dealing with tough topics, it can be difficult to get people to open up. However, Oprah did this countless times.


The inflections of her voice and tone immediately captivated audiences, drawing millions to their television screens to watch her show. However, she didn’t start out with a following, wealth, or influence. She was born into poverty in Mississippi to a teenage single mother. As a black woman, she had very few societal privileges granted to her. By all means, she was not supposed to be a success story. Yet here she is, one of the most successful talk show hosts of all time.


I don’t know how Oprah did it. I don’t know what her secret was. However, I do know that she played a crucial role in inspiring an entire generation of black women in media. She paved the way for young aspiring black women like me. She embodied the influential role that black women could have within media, and for that, I am very grateful.

How Always’ #LikeAGirl commercial made me re-think my childhood

Image from Creative Commons

When I was younger, I loved to play with my father. Sometimes we found ourselves throwing small, lightweight household items at each other. It was almost like a game of tag, but you had to tag a person with a slipper, balled up plastic trash bag, hat, or anything within close proximity.

“You throw like a girl,” are the words I would hear being shouted at me by my father when I would throw something at him and miss. I would retaliate with “No, you throw like a girl,” when he threw something at me and missed.

Then, we would both laugh about it, and that was it. There appeared to be no underlying meaning to the phrase “your throw like a girl” that needed to be analyzed. I knew it was an insult, but I didn’t feel particularly hurt, it was just something people said. I didn’t even notice that when I threw something well and hit him that he never said, “good throw, you throw like a girl.”

Sometimes, we forget the power of words and the impact they carry. Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign addresses the impact of “You (blank) like a girl.” The commercial demands the attention of all women who may come across it by making it relatable through using a phrase almost every woman in the United States has heard.

It’s odd to think whenever someone hears “You (blank) like a girl,” it is immediately known to be an insult. The blank is almost always filled with some sort of athletic characteristic like run, throw, jump, or fight. It is such an automatic understanding that no one ever stops and thinks “Wow, why did I say that?” or “Why is this even a saying?”

Always challenges its audience to actually ponder these questions in the commercial. It forces the audience to recognize the gender roles assigned to girls do not include being able to be good at anything related to athletics.

Exposure to this negative language eventually impacts girls. Always shows this impact by asking young girls, possibly around ages 8 to 12 years-old, to do various activities like a girl. They proudly do these activities with all the seriousness, and ambition a man is expected to do them with. On the other hand, when young women are asked to do things like a girl, they put forth little effort, and do everything very daintily and almost in a giddy way.

This shows the impact of the words “You (blank) like a girl.” The opinions young women have about themselves are largely impacted by what society expects of them and tells them to do. When the world tells girls that doing certain activities like a girl is bad, then how long is it until girls just stop doing those activities due to fear of embarrassment and a lack of self-confidence?

The worst part is women unknowingly perpetuate these assigned gender roles, which say girls can’t be good at sports. We see this in the video with the young women, even they have come to believe this to be true. Or have they? Do they really think that is how girls run and fight?

The answer is no. When some of them are asked to do the task over again, they simply run like themselves, the way they would truly do it. There is something to be said for the fact their initial reaction was to do the activities the way society expects them to be able to do it versus how they genuinely do these various activities in their everyday lives.

This commercial reminds me of the power and impact of words. It challenges me to question the social norms and gender roles I don’t understand with the hopes of being able to set an example for younger girls. Maybe if this commercial had existed when I was younger, I would have asked my dad “Why did you tell me I throw like a girl? I am a girl.”