Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brian Euston's memorial was pissed on -- and, yes, race is affecting his death's coverage

Posted by on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge Brian Euston's memorial. No signs of piss, thankfully.
  • Brian Euston's memorial. No signs of piss, thankfully.

In a column today, the Star's Mary Sanchez takes on the death of Brian Euston, who died after a fight outside Westport's America's Pub. As the blog Tony's Kansas City points out this morning, Sanchez does some awkward tap-dancing around the race issues in this story, which we'll get to shortly. But first, there's this charming little tidbit: Somebody pissed on the memorial.

Really? Of all great the public places to piss in Westport?



Here's the passage:

Security

guards caught a man urinating on the tribute early one morning this

week. The culprits who decided to slash the Rockhurst T-shirt, poke

holes in the photo displays, steal the three-foot Christmas trees, the

religious candles and a concrete statue of St. Patrick, they didn't get

caught.

Humans have the capacity to be an incredibly shitty lot, especially when ingesting liquor at the rate that they do in Westport. But it seems like memorials are generally immune from the shittiness. Our deeply buried fear of death seems to, in most cases, guard against even the drunkest among us doing something as degrading as pissing on the memorial of a dead kid. But, as Mr. Vonnegut would have said, so it goes.

Sanchez also (kind of) addresses the thundering herd of elephants in the room: That Euston, a white suburbanite, was likely killed by a black city-dweller, since that's who typically congregates outside America's Pub. But there it is -- not that it matters, since he's the same amount dead regardless of who killed him.

The columnist doesn't address what bloggers have been addressing: Why this killing is getting so much more coverage than the other 98 that have happened in the city this year. (Although, for what it's worth, Justin Kendall has covered every last one of those, too.)

There are (at least) two reasons for that. The first, and the one bloggers are hinting at: Because the media is whiter than a Big Bang Theory watch party. Because of this, and because many of us are as suburban as the Eustons, we empathize more strongly with them than we do other murder victims and their families.

If a kid gets caught in the crossfire of a 2 a.m. gunfight at Elmwood and Cleaver II -- as Marion Denmon did last weekend -- it's naturally more easily dismissed by most in the news media. There's not much chance I'd be strolling down Elmwood at 2 o'clock on a Saturday morning. But standing shit-faced outside a place like America's Pub? That was me a short seven years ago -- and it could be my son an even shorter 25 years from now. I can feel that, so I can write it. Same goes for most of the mainstream media.

Of course, that sucks for the mother of kids like Marion Denmon, who may watch Mrs. Euston's press conferences and wonder when the men with cameras will show up at her house. And it's something worth talking about.

The second reason is a business concern: The news business is built on the element of surprise -- on its ability to tell readers and viewers and listeners something that feels new and unusual. So while you might believe every murder from 1 through 99 is equally tragic, they're not equally newsworthy. Things happen that make one stand out from the pack. A guy gets found with his head lopped off -- that's uncommon. "Man Gets Ass Kicked, Dies At Sushi Bar" isn't a headline you'll see every day, so that gets played up.

And, yes, a white kid from the suburbs getting punched to death in one of the city's busiest entertainment districts -- no matter who did the punching -- is more unusual than most of the other 99 homicides. He's a different race than most of the city's murder victims, killed in a different neighborhood, by a different kind of violence.

Uncomfortable as it may be, all those "differents" add up to more coverage. Yes, if it bleeds it leads. But to stay in the news cycle in a city with this much killing, sometimes just bleeding isn't enough.

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