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By J-Source, Dec. 16

During my first few days sitting in the jury box at 361 University Ave., where I was called to duty in 2018, I spent a lot of time anticipating the eventual emotional labour of having to quash racial stereotypes about Black men throughout our deliberations. I worried that decisions and assumptions would be made based on the defendant’s appearance, his past criminal record and the things he did to survive. I wondered how many times I would have to interject with “Just because he did something bad in the past” or “You wouldn’t say that if he were white.” Even though our group was thoughtful and equity-focused, as the only Black juror, and the only other Black person in the room aside from the defendant, I felt an exhausting responsibility to be the myth debunker.

Extensive research shows that crime coverage disproportionately depicts Black people, even though it is out of proportion with the Black arrest rate. Through language, images and sounds, crime coverage also portrays Black people as more menacing and criminal than other groups. Research also shows that non-Black consumers of crime coverage are more likely to be racially prejudiced against Black people and support harsher punishments for them.

We found the defendant not guilty, but no one was celebrating. The victim’s family had no closure, and the defendant would be tied to this crime for life.

After the case was over, I found numerous stories naming him as a suspect, with no editor’s notes to update that he had been cleared. How would he rebuild his life when an employer or landlord could Google his name and find this information? It was a reminder of the vicious cycle of poverty and crime that Black men who end up in the prison system endure.

Newsrooms have also been grappling with their own processes around removing reputation-damaging information. Unpublishing requests have traditionally been unsuccessful and involve a tedious and lengthy process that is at the discretion of the news outlet.

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