Does the media convey information clearly, neutrally, accurately, or has it too often become something else, particularly sensationalist? Sadly, I’m finding it to be the latter.
When a black high school honor student, Kiera Wilmot, was arrested for blowing up a bottle bomb, and misrepresented it as a science project, the media launched a blitz on her behalf. The ACLU took up the cause as well.
The reality is that while we have a very real problem with school to prison pipelines and an enormous racial disparity and unfairness in our judicial system, most of the perpetrators of the felony of making and exploding bottle bombs are white males, both juvenile and adults, and not black female honor students OR white female honor students. The usual pattern of racial issues does not apply; rather it is the exception to the rule.
In the case of Kendra McKenzie Gill, we have a young white woman, age 18, who went riding around in a car with three friends, throwing out bottle bombs which exploded. No one was hurt, fortunately; but someone easily could have been.
Once again we see the same distractions – that she was an honor student, and a beauty pageant winner. Neither of those details should matter, unless we have different laws and different standards for people who are attractive or studious.
Once again we see the same failure to clarify WHY this is a felony charge, and what the real dangers were in exploding bottles, both to those who made the bottle bombs, and to those in the neighborhoods where they exploded.
As noted in the Utah Valley Daily Herald:
One of Gill’s lawyers said felony charges are inappropriate because the incident that involved driving around neighborhoods Aug. 2 and tossing plastic bottles filled with a toilet bowl cleaner was “a prank.”
“I hope that calm heads prevail,” defense attorney Wally Bugden told The Associated Press. “These bombs — that’s an unfortunate word — were not intended to harm anybody.”
No one was injured, and initial reports by a fire marshal that the bottles contained shrapnel were incorrect, he said.
“They are all honor students who have never been in trouble before, all good kids,” Bugden said. “Charging this as a felony is way out of proportion. They did it because she’s a pretty girl and a pageant queen.”
Unlike Kiera Wilmot, the charges are not being dropped, but a plea agreement instead is being negotiated for a lesser charge, per the Daily Herald:
Prosecutors and defense lawyers said Thursday that a plea agreement is being negotiated to reduce the charges against a beauty queen accused of tossing homemade bottle bombs in a Salt Lake City suburb.
What is not clear is if this is because Kendra Gill is a few years older, or white, or the law is written very differently from the laws in other states which are very similar. But it is likely, from following this coverage, that it is because unlike Kiera Wilmot’s bottle bomb explosion, no one is trying to misrepresent that this was a science project, or that there is an element of racial prejudice.
Which is a shame, because we should be made aware when media covers news events like this about when we do and when we don’t have racial inequities, or gender inequities in crime. And we should be expecting our media to more accurately represent WHY a crime IS a crime, instead of distracting people with extraneous details about beauty pageants or grade point averages. Because NOT doing that contributes to misunderstanding and false perceptions of our judicial system, which in turn make it much harder for justice to occur and for us to be aware of what does and does not work in our system of Justice. It also contributes to that racial disparity by failing to indicate where racial disparity is of concern, and where it is not.
For the curious, this is an example of the same kind of explosion, using drain cleaner and aluminum foil. YOU decide if you would be hurt by being close to this going off, or if your property might be damaged, or a pet or wild life injured, or if you would be concerned or even feel threatened, if you heard a series of these explosions going off in your neighborhood, possibly in your driveway or front yard.
Image credit: Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune