Is Coverage Of The Dylan Noble Shooting Driven By His Race?

Jul 19, 2016

Race, police involved shootings, and the Black Lives Matter movement have captivated the Valley’s media attention over recent weeks. The case of the fatal police shooting of 19-year-old Dylan Noble, an unarmed man from Clovis, rocketed back into the news last week with the release of police body camera footage of the shooting. The video was released, in part, due to public pressure to see the informative but graphic scene.

But some are questioning the motives for the intense media scrutiny.

Since the fall of 2015, Fresno police have shot and killed 9 people. Take a moment and think about how many of those people you can name. For many, only one name will come to mind: Dylan Noble.

Media scrutiny of Noble’s fatal encounter with police has garnered intense coverage and even become a national story.

At a rally in front of the Fresno City Hall last week, one of the protesters, Gloria Hernandez, speculated why the case is getting so much attention, Dylan Noble was white.

“You don’t see any bad mouthing from Dylan, rest in peace. You see a whole newspaper dedicated to how great he was. Well, our people are great too. They are human too,” Hernandez said.

  It was a refrain that a number of Black and Hispanic advocates picked up. That the media response to the shooting of Dylan Noble is driven by his whiteness, while cases involving non-white people are ignored.

Justice Medina has become one of the faces of the Black Lives Matter movement in Fresno.

He thinks there is no doubt this case is getting more attention than it otherwise would because of Noble’s race.

“And that is something to point out. And it also shows that not everybody is safe. And that should bring white people to the cause. I mean, if they are going to kill a white kid in Clovis…who is safe?” Medina says.

It's difficult to make comparisons across cases because there has not been a shooting exactly the same as Dylan’s of a non-white person. And only one other of those nine shootings was captured on officer body camera.

Medina acknowledges that despite Noble’s race elevating the case it could bring more people to the Black Lives Matter movement, but he wonders about the price.

“I understand it but at the end of the day, somebody died. And then was shot while they were on the floor with their hands up. They got shot two times in the chest and then you get hit with a shotgun shell. For what reason? It don’t make sense. That is a human life,” Medina says.

"That the media gets involved more when there are compelling visuals and compelling narratives"-Robert Hernandez

The video released last Wednesday by Fresno Police shows that Noble was actually shot four times and only appeared to raise one hand while on the ground.

Robert Hernandez is a journalism professor at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC.

He says the activists have a case that the media is paying more attention because Noble is white. But race isn’t the only factor driving coverage.

“That the media gets involved more when there are compelling visuals and compelling narratives,”  Hernandez says.

And the story of Dylan Noble has it all. Both bystander cell phone footage of the shooting, a police body camera and the national narrative about excessive police use of force. It is custom made for engaging and shareable stories.

"I mean, if they are going to kill a white kid from Clovis, who is safe?" Justice Medina, activist

Still, like local activists, Twitter users were quick to pounce on the media’s coverage as biased toward Noble because he is white.

But at the same time, its Black Lives Matter protesters who have held multiple rallies in the wake of the shooting calling for accountability by the police department. Even triggering a private meeting between community leaders and elected officials.

Conversely, friends and family of Noble have been quoted saying they feel like the story has been buried because Noble was white.

Writing in the Washington Post, Wesley Lowrey took up the argument that the Noble is getting overlooked by pointing out that, according to their analysis, black people are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police.

Lastly, Hernandez says the proliferation of cell phone and body camera footage, coupled with social media, has steamrolled the media’s traditional role as information gatekeeper, pushing stories which otherwise would have gone to the wayside forward.

“Our mantra in journalism is to give voice to the voiceless. And for many, many, many sad years we didn’t. Because there were so many voiceless people out there we couldn’t give everyone voice. Well, technology has stepped in,” Hernandez says.

In other words, Hernandez says, minority communities have been complaining about unfair police treatment for years but it is only with the deep penetration of video that a largely white journalism industry has been able to sink their teeth into the narrative.

So Hernandez estimates that even though this is the case, with a white man at the center, that has captured such intense fascination, it is unlikely to be the last time race, police, and the media collide.