"[In]justice Rolls Down Like Water..." Challenging White Supremacy in Media Constructions of Crime and Punishment

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Since the earliest days of American mass culture, newspapers, films, then television shows, and now blogs and social media have vilified Blacks, Asians, Latino/as, Arabs, and indigenous people, painting them as violent, criminal, savage threats to the White social order (Stabile, 2006). In this chapter I explore the intertwined nature of the cultural and criminal justice industries, arguing for analysis of the connections among media representations, the public imagination, public opinion, and public policy. Media images and narratives play a crucial role in shaping our perceptions of key social issues, including race, crime, policing, and incarceration. These beliefs inflect public opinion about the proper state responses to crime, often leading to a fearful and punitive mindset that is easily exploited for political purposes.

While a comprehensive historical overview of the relationship between racial representation in media and racial bias in the criminal justice system is beyond the scope of this chapter, I will focus on several key trends in the last decade, a time when the media and cultural environment has paradoxically experienced both tremendous change and a remarkable level of consistency.