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WHOSE LIVES MATTER?: The National Newsworthiness of Police Killing Unarmed Blacks

  • Alicia D. Simmons (a1)


This study investigates the characteristics of cases of police killing unarmed Blacks that receive national news coverage. I analyze an original quantitative dataset measuring the parameters of 111 cases occurring between 2013 and 2015, and the amount of coverage they received in six national news outlets. Multivariate models indicate that cases’ national newsworthiness is positively associated with Blacks’ share of the population where the fatal encounter occurred, and the presence of video evidence, peaceful demonstrations, or civil lawsuits. National newsworthiness is negatively associated with encounters that were initiated by a call to police, and those involving decedents who resisted arrest, suffered electroshock injuries, or were impaired by drugs or alcohol. The findings strongly suggest that the most newsworthy cases are those that align with an injustice frame. I discuss the results using theories of newsworthiness, describing how patterns of story availability and story suitability might shape which cases rise to the top of the national agenda. Using the social construction of reality approach, I discuss the implications of the results for how the public understands the empirical nature of police killing unarmed Blacks, and the symbolic meaning of these events.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Professor Alicia D. Simmons, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, NY 13346. E-mail:


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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
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