By Jocelyn Martinez-Rosales
In recent weeks, the Chicago Police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo has ignited demonstrations and a city-wide outcry for police accountability. Mainstream news reports as well as hyper-local media have followed the story closely. Simultaneously, opinion pieces have also sprouted causing controversy and push-back.
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, was one of the first to write his opinions about the incident, “it’s not too early to stop romanticizing and infantilizing 13-year-olds,” Zorn writes in a column published before police body cam footage was released.
Zorn received heat from Chicago journalists and activists via Twitter. Many questioned if he would have written the opinion piece the same way had Toledo been White. It was only when Zorn was under fire that he deleted his tweet history including tweets about his column and opinion.
In a video produced by the New York Times, implicit bias is explored with an analogy. The video titled Peanut Butter, Jelly and Racism breaks it down, “we’ve all grown up in a culture with media images, news images, conversations we’ve heard at home, our education. Think about a fog we’ve been breathing our whole life, we never even realized it, what we were taking in. That fog causes associations that lead to biases.”
For Toledo, it wasn’t long for the reports to come out of his association with gangs in Little Village and of course, questions about why a preteen was out at two in the morning accompanied by a 21-year-old and a firearm. While as journalists, it’s important to report details, how we frame those details makes a difference.
One Sun Times’ headline reads, “Gang members ‘instructed’ to shoot at police vehicles after Adam Toledo shooting, cops warned.”
If you’re reading that headline, now you’re making associations between gang activity and Toledo. Why is a Latino gang threatening to shoot at police vehicles? Is Toledo a Latin King? These questions and now connections between gang activity and a 13-year-old are made.
Little Village is a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in the west side of Chicago. It’s the neighborhood where soon-to-be 15-year-old girls go to buy their quinceanera dress, where you can find some of the best taco joints and the only place where you can find obscure Mexican cheeses in the city. But if you type in Little Village into a Google search engine, the top stories are shootings, death and violence.
The reality is that Little Village is an underprivileged neighborhood with a median household income of $33,989. For the week of March 22 to March 28 of 2021, the Chicago Police Department District 10 located in the Little Village neighborhood reports five shooting incidents and 40 so far this year.
If the only time a neighborhood makes news headlines is for its crime rate, what does that do to our implicit bias? Columnists who have preconceived notions about brown youth and areas in the city like Little Village begin to not see our youth as youth.
In a 2019 study conducted by Pew Research, it revealed Hispanic Americans were 26 percent more likely than Black and White adults to think their personal interests were misunderstood by the news media. Additionally, predominantly Latino neighborhoods felt less of a connection to local journalists and news organizations.
Implicit bias is inevitable but if we begin to recognize and understand why we have certain associations with races, cultures, economic status etc. then as journalists we can begin to report from different lenses.
In an op-ed by Mateo Zapata published also by the Chicago Tribune, Zapata writes, “we need solutions that begin with telling our own stories so that we can take back control of our narratives and defend the humanity of Adam and all the other kids like him.”
As members of the world of journalism, demanding accountability from peers and news organizations is vital to stop narratives that perpetrate implicit bias and continue a false narrative of Latino youth.