Last week, the City of Grand Rapids released its annual Grand Rapids Juvenile Offense Index (GRJOI) Report. It found that arrests for crime decreased 20% among youth aged 8 to 16 years old.
The report tracked three areas: family domestic issues, “status offenses” (such as curfew violations), and juvenile criminal offenses. Of the tracked areas, only 39% were actual crime.
It’s good news to be sure, although it might come as a surprise for many as the traditional media approach on juvenile crime is to create an atmosphere in which we are taught to fear youth–particularly youth of color.
This is created through a variety of means–including stories that report on isolated cases of violence as if it were epidemic, stories that simply relay the police versions of events, or stories that focus on laws aimed at criminalizing youth (for example, see Representative Dave Agema’s proposal to arm teachers). Think about how many stories we have seen or read about crime in Grand Rapids–whether that be stories focusing on gang violence, shootings, or fights–do these stories shape your perception of youth crime in Grand Rapids? How does race factor into these stories? What about class, age, and immigration status?
Studies have shown that the media tends to focus their coverage of youth on crime to the exclusion of other issues:
“…television news devoted more than 47 percent of all its news coverage of youth on crime and violence, and newspapers devoted about 40 percent of their stories to these topics. In the same survey, television devoted only about 15 percent of its stories to education issues, while the print media focused 25 percent of its coverage on the schools. Issues such as child poverty, child care, and child welfare occupied only about 4 percent of the attention of the media, both electronic and print. Very little space in either medium was devoted to policy discussions about possible solutions to youth problems. (Dale Kunkel, The News Media’s Picture of Children (1994).) A comparable survey of local television news coverage of youth in the State of California in 1993 concluded that over half of the stories on youth involved violence, while more than two-thirds of the violence stories concerned youth. By way of contrast, only 14 percent of all arrests for violent crime in California that same year were of youth. Thus, more than two-thirds of the TV news coverage of violent crime was focused on juveniles who were responsible for about 14 percent of that violence.”