A woman in Philadelphia is being charged with murder for allegedly assaulting her five-month-old son. News articles detailing the incident, however, focus on the fact that she has 16 prior offenses.
The attention paid to her criminal background is something that many people with prior convictions are all too familiar with.
Media Focuses on Murder Suspect's Prior Record
The incident apparently happened in the Tioga neighborhood of Philadelphia in the morning of September 7, 2019. Police responded to a house there after receiving a call about an unresponsive child. The found the five-month-old boy inside. He was pronounced dead a few minutes after the police arrived.
The boy's mother admitted to beating him with objects in the room – a statement consistent with bruises on the boy's head, face, and neck.
Police arrested the mother and charged her with murder.
When the media caught wind of the story, they focused on the fact that the mother had 16 prior convictions on her record.
Fixation on Prior Convictions Comes With Dangerous Insinuations
When a news story fixates on a particular detail, it insinuates to readers that the detail is important. If it weren't important, the unspoken thought goes, it would not be included in the article.
So when a news story like this one mentions a particular detail not once, but twice, it signals to readers that this piece of information is something to note.
Whether consciously or not, readers are going to see or infer a connection between the alleged murder and the mother's criminal record. That perceived connection can trigger some follow-up thoughts that are truly disturbing, including:
- Someone with so many prior convictions was bound to commit another crime.
- With so many priors, she should have still been in jail and this child would still be alive.
- People with such a long list of prior convictions should not be allowed to have children.
After reading about what happened, even if you did not immediately reach for one of these thoughts, everyone knows someone who would.
Prior Convicts Face This Discrimination All the Time
Unfortunately, people who have criminal records deal with those who have those kinds of thoughts all the time. The discrimination that prior convicts face is not limited to employers who conduct background checks and eliminate people with a criminal record – it includes everyday people who seem to think that one wrong move or one bad decision should doom another person to a life of struggle forever.
Media Wrongly Assumes that the Convictions are for Serious Crimes
The worst part about this particular situation is that the woman who is being accused of murder probably does not have a severe criminal conviction. She is only 35 years old. To gather 16 criminal convictions in only around 17 years – juvenile offenses can be expunged or sealed in Pennsylvania – means that the vast majority of those offenses are minor.