Moral panic, moral breach: Bernhard goetz, george zimmerman, and racialized news reporting in contested cases of self-defense

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19 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article examines local news coverage of two landmark self-defense shooting cases-The 1984 Bernhard Goetz case and the 2012 George Zimmerman case-To interrogate the racialized construction of crime and, specifically, extend moral panic theory to the contemporary context of racial colorblindness. Analyzing 542 local news stories, I find the Goetz case was framed as a moral panic, while Zimmerman coverage exhibited a moral breach. The Zimmercan case: (1) is characterized by competing, rather than complementary, narratives; (2) reframes "folk devils" as victims and disrupts clear-cut allocations of blame; (3) emphasizes harm to communities rather than harm to social order; and (4) elicits calls for dialogue and acknowledgement rather than collective punishment and shaming. Unpacking what the different styles of narrative mean for racialized constructions of victims and criminals and the social construction of harm, threat, and social action, I argue that, despite the greater attention to race found in Zimmerman coverage, moral breaches tend to compartmentalize social problems and thus narrow their impact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Problems
Volume63
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Gun politics
  • Moral panic
  • Politics of crime
  • Racialization
  • Self-defense

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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