Every effort should be made to explore or challenge presupposed narratives that can leave most murders as categorized as “gang-related” both with respect to the perpetrator and the victim. Though the evidence is clear that most of Chicago’s murders occur in the city’s poorest—and therefore most gang-fertile—neighborhoods, that doesn’t necessarily say anything specific about the victim. Covering murder victims for the last several months for DNAinfo.com, I’ve talked to families of victims that were as genuinely innocent as Hadiya was as well as those of victims who were hardened gangbangers. Most of the victims I write about fell somewhere in between.
By recognizing that there is a spectrum of victims, coverage of murder rates becomes more powerful and nuanced. No, not every victim will be as compelling as Hadiya or the six year olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but by striving to treat all victims as human, journalists and their audiences may well seek out further information on social, economic, and other factors that play directly into the numbers of violence. And those results would be a good first step in changing the homicide numbers.