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Media Exposure and Racialized Perceptions of Inequities in Criminal Justice

Social Sciences, Vol. 6 (#3):1-22

22 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2017  

Valerie L. Wright

Department of Criminology, Anthropology, & Sociology

Isaac Unah

Political Science, University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill

Date Written: June 28, 2017

Abstract

Does media exposure to salient criminological events exacerbate racialized perceptions of injustice? We examine whether closely following media coverage of the fatal encounter of George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin moderates racial and ethnic differences in opinion surrounding the event and the U.S. criminal justice system. Our analysis addresses several key aspects of the case: Whether Zimmerman would have been arrested sooner if Martin had been white, whether respondents felt Zimmerman’s acquittal was justified, and whether there is racial bias against African Americans in the criminal justice system. Relying on a national opinion survey before and after Zimmerman’s trial verdict, our findings support the racial gradient thesis by demonstrating that sustained exposure to racialized framing of the incident in the media affects Hispanics the most and hardens entrenched attitudes among African Americans relative to whites. The analysis supports the continuing relevance of the mass media in attitude formation.

Keywords: media exposure; public perceptions; Trayvon Martin; inequality; race; criminal justice

JEL Classification: K; K14; K41

Suggested Citation

Wright, Valerie L. and Unah, Isaac, Media Exposure and Racialized Perceptions of Inequities in Criminal Justice (June 28, 2017). Social Sciences, Vol. 6 (#3):1-22. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2993989

Valerie Wright (Contact Author)

Department of Criminology, Anthropology, & Sociology ( email )

Cleveland, OH 44115
United States

Isaac Unah

Political Science, University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill ( email )

361 Hamilton Hall
CB#3265
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

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