A panel of four people faced the 80 audience participants in Northern Kentucky University’s Digitorium on Nov. 28 for “Hate Crimes, Social Media & Justice,” a documentary preview and panel discussion.
NKU professors Rachel Lyon, Jon Garon and Jennifer Kinsley discussed the trailer for the documentary “Tulsa: Hate Crime Capital?” with historian and reporter for Cincinnati’s WKRC Dan Hurley; and took in reactions from the crowd.
“It is very exciting to show a work in progress,” Lyon said. “This is kind of a 10 minute trailer for the film that will exist as we go along and raise the money.”
“Tulsa: Hate Crime Capital?” showcased two different hate crimes in Tulsa, Okla. and their similarities and differences. There is footage from survivors, a news reporter, police officers, Tulsa mayor and others from the community in Tulsa.
The two events that it follows are the race riots on Tulsa’s Black Wall Street in 1921 and shootings in Tulsa on April 6 of this year.
The trailer for the documentary, in some parts, discussed the media’s bias during the shootings. The narrator of the trailer said “the headlines were controlled by a select few” and “the impact of the media may increase racial tensions and fears within the community life in Tulsa; fueling America’s racial divide.”
Lyon, who has been working on the film since last July, said that in 1921, a story could be controlled by a group of a few men in a newsroom. Because of that, she said, the race riots will not be in the history books.
Now, however, there will not be a problem with that. During the April 6 shootings, the alleged shooter was revealed through offensive racial statements on Facebook.
“You cannot punish speech that is offensive, no matter how offensive it is because we, in our society, value even words that we disagree with,” Kinsley, Chase Law School professor, said.
Lyon said that she believes that the media could be the way to keep a story alive. However, she said people leave the conversations out. She said that the media doesn’t “push” enough.
Taylor Harris, electronic media broadcasting major, was production assistant for the documentary and traveled to Tulsa with Lyon and others in July.
“It is not completely journalists’ fault,” Harris said. “It is partly because of how they reported it. Crimes in north Tulsa don’t get reported on all around Tulsa. They even have different news stations for north Tulsa and south Tulsa. North Tulsa is predominantly black while south Tulsa is predominantly white.”
In 1921, Harris said that the journalists only reported on the crimes that happened to white victims.
“So, the headlines came out and looked like all of these black people came out and killed all of these white people.”
However, in the first race riot, white people burned down the predominantly African-American Black Wall Street district of Greenwood in Tulsa and destroyed 35 city blocks, killing 300 people and leaving more than 10,000 homeless.
The panel discussed hate crimes and the media at length, not just Tulsa.
“Approximately 6,800 hate crimes a year are voluntarily reported by police to the FBI,” Garon said. “That’s a shocking and disturbing number but it is shocking and disturbing because the Bureau of Justice statistics—doing a much more comprehensive study—reports that in 2005, the average number of actual hate crimes is roughly 191,000.”
Of the 80 people in the Digitorium, over half were undergraduate or Chase Law students.
“I learned a lot about how the media can help spread awareness about crime that does happen but also how it can have a negative light on it as well,” NKU student Victoria Biddle said.
Other than Tulsa, each panelist had a connection to a hate crime through his or her home states or just in their family.
“Experiences that seem so long ago are embedded in local cultures and local memories,” Hurley said. “Under the surface—whether it is Tulsa or Cincinnati or Covington, there are these tensions that some people forget that is related to the whole concept of memory.”