I’ll have my Crime without Relish

The following contains some violent content that has been included for illustrative purposes only. Read on if you have a strong stomach.

I have decided to break with the political trend of my past entries – too much politics makes for indigestion – and write on something different and even more unpalatable.

This week has been a bloody one for Trinidad (& Tobago), but not unusually so. Anyone familiar with life here will know that carnage has become part of the daily menu. This past Wednesday, reporter Richard Charan summed up his coverage of another murder with the following statistics: “[victim’s name] murder was the country’s 315th for the year. At the end of September, there were 250 murders. In the past 46 days there have been 65 homicides” [1]. I am sure that the numbers have increased since then.

I enjoy reading crime-fiction, viewing crime-dramas but being an audience to real life crime is not my cup of tea (is it anyone’s really?).

In my opinion, the local media (print, television, radio) take its crime-reporting responsibilities way too seriously. Specifically, with reference to those crimes involving grievous bodily harm.

I understand that the so-called frequency with which these crimes occur underscores the need to keep crime foremost in the minds and thereby the agenda of our policy makers and enforcers – Government and the police.

I also understand that citizens need to be made aware of potential threats to their safety. For example, the existence of a serial criminal of any kind- killer, rapist, assaulter or an outbreak of violent hostilities – gang war, community feud – that may directly endanger the lives of some segment of the general population.

What I don’t get is the rationale behind the detailed nature of the reports of crimes, especially those stemming from domestic disputes. The basic circumstances surrounding such crimes often seem to be so similar that all that changes is the names of the tragic victims and perpetrators. For example, what do I, the reader, the viewer, the listener learn from “news” that for example, Jane Black had a restraining order against her husband, but he broke that order to violate / kill her and her lover John White in some horrendous fashion? Do I conclude that:

  • “love” drives people crazy, makes them do horrible things?
  • women / men with spouses with a history of violence should never begin romantic relationships with other people?
  • restraining orders are just pieces of paper?

Furthermore, what purpose does it serve to tell the audience how many times someone was chopped, gouged, shot, stabbed and where on his/her body?

  • Should I conclude that people should obtain psychiatric evaluation before being given access to objects of any kind (sharp, blunt, heavy…)?
  • Should I be grateful that I am still in one whole piece ?
  • If the person is alive, should I offer him/her a “spare” body part, a few pints of blood? (donating blood is a worthy cause!)

Monday’s (11/12/07) headlines pertaining to a specific story were peppered with gruesome details:

  • Daily Express: “Killer butchers ‘romantic’ rival”: eyes gouged out, face peeled off, body dumped” (p.4)
  • The Trinidad Guardian: “Scalped, chopped, castrated: man mutilated in love triangle killing” (p.1)
  • Trinidad & Tobago Newsday: “Jilted man scalps ex’s lover” (p.1)

Was all of that really necessary? One word word have sufficed (mutilated) and even that is more than enough!

What is also troublesome is the repeat-play of these details in following news stories (in days after, in the report of the relevant court case many weeks, months, years later). For example, this past Tuesday Cordielle Street’s “Genes and licks linked to murders: psychologists weigh in on growing violence” [2] was accompanied by a side-bar summary that read: “Following the discovery of the mutilated body of 23-year-old [victim’s name] in Santa Cruz on Sunday, The Guardian spoke to two psychologists in an attempt to find out what may have led to the killer’s rage when he chopped and stabbed [victim’s name] , smashed his face, gouged out his eyes and cut off his [other body part].” The article referenced the crime that spurred the previously mentioned graphic headlines.

Did you really have to re-hash all of that? I haven’t forgotten. It was only in the news the day before!

Another disturbing trend is the imagery that accompanies such reports. Blood everywhere…

Like I don’t know that removing someone’s limb without their permission or multiple gunshot wounds would lead to massive blood loss!

Photographers and camera-men seem to look for shots that would add even more drama to the already over-described crime story. For example, the previously mentioned Street article was accompanied by a photo by David Wears that was captioned: “A paw-paw tree trunk bears the bloodstain of murder victim [victim’s name].”

Additionally, in their zeal for detail, I have seen some reporters include information that could lead to the further harm of surviving victims of the crime. [Victim’s name] is warded in [name of hospital] in [named condition]. If the perpetrator is still on the loose, he/she now knows where to go…

Overall, the inclusion of the details of the lead-up to the crimes, the descriptions of the violent acts and the images of the crime scenes, to take a page from these reporters, seems like “overkill.” The current technique, if any at all, could easily be mistaken for blood-thirsty relish.

I do not want the coverage of crime to cease nor do I want to minimize the gravity of crimes that have taken place. I just think that reporters really need to reconsider the extent of details (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?) that they provide when covering crime stories and ask themselves seriously “What purpose does this information serve?”

  • Is it a deterrent to crime or does it give the easily-susceptible terrible ideas?
  • Does it encourage the public to evaluate their safety or does is desensitize them to the threat of crime?

What’ s so difficult about writing / saying that?: [Victim’s name] {WHO} was killed {WHAT} last night {WHEN} in [place] {WHERE}, in what appears to be a [domestic dispute, robbery etc.] {WHY}

Leave the HOW to the police reports, court transcripts and to those who should be privy to that information.

But I suppose it is the HOW that really sells papers.



Note: Mosquito has been busy with some work-related projects, but promises to write again soon.

~ by mangoandmosquitoblog on November 16, 2007.

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