On Media Influence and Public Reactions
Last night I saw a local production of The Laramie Project, a play formed from series of interviews and readings of police reports following the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998. After reports alleged that Shepard was targeted for his sexual orientation, the murder trial became international news and brought attention to the lack of hate crime legislation at both state and federal levels.
The trial is an interesting example of how media influence causes society to react. Shepard’s murder was heinous and tragic, but according to the FBI’s “crime clock” for 2011, a violent crime occurs every 26.2 seconds and a murder occurs every 36 minutes in the United States. Unlike the outcome of many murders, however, both men accused of murdering Shepard were convicted and are serving two consecutive life terms in prison. The prominence of case spurred the movement to amend hate crime legislation in the United States and culminated in the passage of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The murder of Matthew Shepard is a strong example of the ability of the media to influence the public’s opinion of which stories are important and require action.
United States Department of Justice. “Crime Clock 2011,” FBI.gov. Web. 24 Nov 2013.
More info about the Shepard/Byrd Act can be found here: http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/crm/matthewshepard.php