One of the police officers involved in Freddie Gray's death headed to trial in Baltimore on Monday. Several media outlets have reported on it. But only CNN, it seems, decided to bring up a totally unrelated fact in its story (emphasis added):
The April 19 death of Freddie Gray, the son of an illiterate heroin addict, made him a symbol of the black community's distrust of police. His name is now invoked with those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio; Eric Garner in New York; and other black men who died during encounters with white police officers. In Gray's case, three of the officers charged are white; three black.
To be clear, whatever Gray's mother did has nothing to do with Gray's death or the trial it led to. Gray was arrested for allegedly carrying an illegal knife, and he died in police custody from a fatal spinal cord injury after he thrashed around the back of a moving police car without a seatbelt. His mother never came into the picture, much less her literacy or drug addiction.
But the media has a bizarre history of demonizing black men and characterizing them as troubled. For example, last year, the New York Times drew widespread criticism for describing Michael Brown, whom a former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer killed, as "no angel."
At the same time, white murderers, serial killers, and terrorists very often get a pass. The Times, for instance, described the suspect in the Planned Parenthood shooting as "gentle." And Sean McElwee, a research associate at public policy group Demos, last year drew a vivid comparison between how the Times described Michael Brown and actual killers:
This type of coverage is also part of a broader media trend of linking younger black men to criminality. As Media Matters found, local news outlets in New York City tend to disproportionately cover black crime. And these distortions have a real effect on the criminal justice system: Previous studies have found that Americans tend to associate black people with criminality, which in turn makes them more likely to support harsher prison sentences, and makes police officers more likely to be suspicious of — and potentially shoot and kill — black men.
Update: CNN removed the description, stating in an editor's note, "A reference to Freddie Gray's mother was removed from this story because it appeared out of context."