Inconspicuous Victims


Recent debates on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system focus on offenders while neglecting the other side of the criminal equation—victims of crime. Such scholarly oversight is surprising given the similarly deep racial disparities in the treatment of victims, manifested in different stages of the criminal justice system. Delving into the underexplored territory of racialized victimization, this project bridges that gap and exposes the roots of the disparate treatment of Black victims in the American criminal justice system. These unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial tensions bring to the fore questions about governmental allocation of resources and emphasize, maybe more than ever, the importance of going back to the roots of such a systematic institutional neglect. Through the ideal victim framework, I argue that from the early days of the victims’ rights movement to the present, Black victims have been considered non-ideal victims and, as such, unworthy of institutional and legal recognition. I further claim that the media has had an important role in such a social construction of the ideal white victim. I utilize a novel dataset spanning ten years of media coverage on homicide cases contrasted with federal and state level crime statistics from Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland to offer empirical support for this claim. I find first, local news stories about white homicide victims are indeed more salient than stories about Black homicide victims, and second, that Black victims are systematically underrepresented while white victims are overrepresented compared to true victimization rates. This Article thus exposes yet another dimension through which Black homicide victims are excised from the public’s consciousness as equal participants in the criminal process. More broadly, this Article calls for a discussion of the tight connections between the patterns through which we think about race and crime and offers directions to advance conversations on how to allow counter-narratives to enter the social discourse.




Law, Race, Crime, Criminal Justice