Cultivation Theory

Gerbner, Fear, Crime, and Cops

Authored by: Valerie J. Callanan , Jared S. Rosenberger

The Routledge Companion to Media and Race

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138020726
eBook ISBN: 9781315778228
Adobe ISBN: 9781317695837


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In the summer of 2014, the town of Ferguson, Missouri exploded. Hundreds of demonstrators poured into the streets to denounce the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, who lay in the street for over three hours after being shot dead by the local police. The police department responded with paramilitary force—riot gear, tanks, and tear gas. Night after night, American news focused on the angry black mobs and their destructive protests. Yet few Americans ever learned of the back story—decades of police harassment that focused on the poor blacks that traversed the tiny white enclaves surrounding Ferguson. These tiny towns resulted as whites fled from Saint Louis during the 1950s and 1960s when legal racial segregation was dismantled during the Civil Rights Movement. Each town has its own police department; each supported in part or whole by ticketing African Americans for such violations as jaywalking, moving violations, or vehicle problems, to such a degree that over 90 percent of individuals brought to court in these towns are non-residential blacks (Department of Justice 2015). Yet this story, which would have provided historical context to the demonstrations, was not covered by the mainstream media. Instead, Americans consumed an all too typical portrayal of African Americans as unruly, violent troublemakers.

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