Who Gets to be a Victim?: The Significance of Johnny Robinson’s Murder

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The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 received attention on a federal level, and illustrated the brazen lengths of racial violence in Alabama for a broader audience. Lesser known, however, is the racially motivated murder of 16-year-old Johnny Robinson, which happened a few hours after the church bombing, when Birmingham police officer Jack Park fatally shot Robinson in the back as he was fleeing the scene of an altercation. This research project examines why Robinson’s death was overlooked and remained underreported by the media in the 1960s. While the church bombing gained extensive media attention and was portrayed as the tragic loss of young, innocent black lives, Robinson's case was framed in newspaper coverage not as a victim of racial violence but as a troublemaker evading police, declaring his death an "accidental" shooting. The difference in media coverage and public perception between these two significant events juxtaposes the rhetorical frame of “victimhood;” a frame recognizable to contemporary audiences, especially following the protests in the summer of 2020 after George Floyd’s murder by a white, Minneapolis police officer. Drawing on primary documents, conclusions made from a requested FOIA report, and parallels to the 2020 protests for George Floyd, this research seeks to shed light on the factors that contributed to Robinson's case being overlooked and denied the justice it deserves.



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