The news picked up on two stories of murderers who took their own lives this week. The first was Steve Stephens, otherwise known as “The Facebook Murderer,” and the second was Aaron Hernandez, the former New England tight end. Each of these stories was framed by the media quite differently, though their crimes were the same.
“This story will Takes your breath away,” states ESPN. “It is a tragedy.” “I have but one word: tragedy.” “From beginning to end, this is a tragedy.” Hernandez was described by many news outsets as “troubled.” His teammates and community shared a sense of “sadness,” “disappointment”, and “shock.” They felt sorry for his family and his daughter who would grow up without a father.”
Stephens, on the other hand, was not even mentioned by his own name in a number of the stories that told his story. He was presented as merely as “The Facebook Murderer,” or “The Murderer.” He was known as “The Suspected Killer.” The New Yorker titled its story, “Facebook and the Murderer.” One headline read, “Is it OK to hope a cold-blooded murderer kills himself?” CNN calls it “Black on Black” crime. “I was horrible.” In a number of articles they said that they felt “relief,” because he is dead. “I feel comfortable now.”
In retrospect, how is it that one suicide was “tragic,” and yet the other was “horrific?” One of these murderers was described to have committed “black on black” murder, but the other was not described to have committed, “Latino on Black,” or “Latino on Latino” murder. One man killed a human being, and the other killed a human being (and possibly three.) In my opinion, both of these men committed murders, yet the reaction of their stories and coverage were not congruent with each other.
I do not necessarily write to sympathize or to justify Stephen’s actions. However, I do believe that terms and labels matter. We should avoid using phrases like “Black on Black” crime. There is just “crime.” Hernandez had a family and people who cared about him. Surely, Stephens did too. We offer as much respect to Stephen’s family as we do Hernandez’s.