The media often characterise knife crime victims as ‘feral’ and fail to report on the social context of the offences, Guardian journalist Gary Younge argued in Lewisham on Wednesday.
Younge questioned journalistic practices when reporting on gun and knife crime – only the unexpected “man bites dog” situations are worthy of news, he said – and added that the prevalence of deaths amongst predominantly young, black men is a newsworthy issue in itself.
Currently editor-at-large for The Guardian, Younge spoke at a “teach-out” at Goldsmiths, University of London, organised by lecturers belonging to the University and College Union who have been on strike across the country, including Goldsmiths and Queen Mary, in Whitechapel, since November 25. The strike, over pensions and working conditions, ended with a return to work today.
Younge addressed how media coverage of gun violence in America and knife crime in the UK is failing. He said: “The reporting of knife crime and gun crime often happens as though it takes place in a vacuum.” He added that journalists often report on the death of a young person, whose face is then splashed across the front page of newspapers. Following this, nothing more is covered until the killer is sentenced.
He went on that there is rarely any coverage of the circumstances that contribute to these deaths, including systemic poverty and the inability to access crucial social services within the context of budget cuts and fiscal austerity. The young perpetrators and victims are characterised as “feral”, while their parents as “negligent.”
Younge said that these assumptions are almost always incorrect, outlining the story of 16-year-old Samuel Brighton, who was shot dead in Dallas late in the evening in November 2013. The Dallas Morning News covered his death in 81 words, and elicited ill-informed opinions in the comment section, including: “I don’t want to blame the victim, but what’s a young boy doing out at 11:30pm?”
Younge told the audience that Samuel was out late as he had been at his Grandmother’s house with a friend, and that “the worst thing that Samuel did that night was cheat in a game of UNO.”
This context was entirely absent from local media, and was only explained in Younge’s 2016 book, Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives. This profiled the lives of the ten children and youths who were killed in the US on one day, November 23, 2013.
On his return to the UK, Yonge sought to contextualize knife crime in a similar fashion, and championed The Guardian’s 2017 Beyond the Blade series, which profiled the 39 children and teenagers who were killed across the country that year.