For example, this story in the New York Times brought up the disparity in treatment between three crimes. Three years ago, a young college student named Romona Moore went missing. She was a good girl, well-known for keeping her routine. At that time, when her parents tried to get help on Romona's disappearance, they couldn't get the police to open a case, and they couldn't get any attention from the media. Romona's disappearance was overshadowed by the disappearance of a white, middle-aged rare books dealer from the Upper East Side. Sixteen days after she disappeared, Romona turned up dead. She had been violated and tortured before she died. Eventually her killers were caught, although--based upon the Times' account--it was no victory of strong policework:
As the trial of the two men accused of killing Ms. Moore has unfolded, the allocation of police resources has been on display. Defense lawyers pointed out lost evidence and searches in which investigators overlooked condoms, condom wrappers, chains, bloody tools and clothes stained with bodily fluids. On the witness stand, Detective John Cantone was forced to admit that he had left several rooms out of a crime scene sketch and marked north as south.In contrast, the rare book dealer was never found, despite the unusual care and resources allocated to her case.
The reason that the disparity of treatment Ms. Moore's disappearance received three years ago was in the spotlight this week, was because the trial of the two men responsible for Romona's death concluded, and the verdict was held until Thursday--just in time for the verdict to be overshadowed by the redball crime of the moment, the case of Imette St. Guillen. Ms. St. Guillen was raped and murdered a few weeks ago, after a night of drinking in bars downtown. Since then, her picture has been a fixture on the covers of the local tabloids, every detail of her case a new excuse to run pictures of the pretty, young, tragically dead woman.
The treatment Ms. St. Guillen has received, in death, is typical of New York City's reaction to the death of someone beautiful. All violent deaths in New York seem to be placed on a spectrum, in the decision of how much attention we pay to them. The top of the charts are young women, beautiful, whose family and friends have lots of good photographs of them. Ranks are drawn according to race, neighborhood, and perceived virtue (i.e., social workers, students, and "actresses" have priorities over strippers and junkies). Next in line are children, again, seemingly ranked by looks and the number of good photographs available, girls taking priority over boys. Mixed in there, are members of society, with emphasis on people with good connections to government (police priority) or to the press (media priority). There are x-factors throughout the process: more attention paid to someone who's killed on a slow news day, for example.
And it's not just New York, either. I mean, how many front pages and hours of television news have been dedicated to Natalee Holloway, the teenager who didn't return from her vacation to Aruba? Yes, her disappearance is tragic, but the coverage is out of all proportion with the event. How many teens have disappeared since Holloway disappeared last May? Why is this young girl, and her family, more important than anyone else who's gone missing in that time?
Back to Romona and Imette, the conflict noted in the Times piece was that by announcing the verdict in the Moore case on Thursday, it would run afoul of the arraignment of the suspect in the St. Guillen murder, in the same courthouse.
The Times called it correctly on Thursday morning. On my ride to work the next day, I didn't pick up the newspaper--a combination of disgust, and the simple fact that there's not much baseball news around this time to make the newspaper worth my fifty cents. Then, on the train, I wound up sitting next to an abandoned Daily News.
Imette's story got three whole pages of the newspaper, pages 2-4. That's one page on her family's reactions, one page on the arraignment, and another page divided between one of the News' columnists, and a graphic pointing out the evidence against the accused murderer.
The first degree murder convictions in the Moore case were buried on page 9, at the bottom of the page. Without irony, the story noted Romona's mother's anger at the news media and the police.