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African-Americans and Serial Killing in the Media: The Myth and the Reality

NCJ Number
Homicide Studies Volume: 9 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2005 Pages: 271-291
Anthony Walsh
Date Published
November 2005
21 pages
This study documents an overrepresentation of African-American serial killers in the period from 1945 through the first 6 months of 2004 and then examines why so little media coverage has been given to African-American serial killers.
The major source of information on serial killers was the encyclopedias of serial killers written by Newton (1990, 1992, and 2000) and by Wilson and Seaman (1983, 1990), as well as the works of other authors. Newspaper and Internet sources were used for cases that occurred after 1999. The study identified 90 African-American serial killers and 323 White-American serial killers within the time frame of the study. African-Americans were represented among serial killers at a rate approximately twice their average percentage in the population (approximately 10.5 percent) across the 58-year time frame. Why, then, does the media limit its coverage of African-American serial killers? In answering this question, this study suggests that the media's fear of racism accusations constrains its coverage of heinous crimes committed by Africa-Americans, compared with the zealousness of its coverage of such crimes committed by Whites. Also, African-American serial killers may have been more hidden from the mainstream culture when their victims were other African-Americans, particularly in the early 20th century. Criminological studies of serial killers also neglect to point out Black overrepresentation in crimes generally considered a White domain. The myth that serial killers are rarely African-Americans has had two detrimental effects. First, Whites tend to argue that Blacks are not sufficiently psychologically complex or intelligent to commit a series of murders without being caught. Second, police tend to neglect the protection of potential victims of serial killers in African-American communities. 1 table, 4 notes, and 64 references