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52 How. J. Crim. Just. 1 (2013)

handle is hein.journals/hjcj52 and id is 1 raw text is: 



The Howard Journal Vol 52 No 1. February 2013 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2311.2012.00731.x
ISSN 0265-5527, pp. 1-18




     African American Serial Killers:

                Over-Represented Yet

                Underacknowledged


                        ALLAN L. BRANSON
   Adjunct  Criminal justice Professor, Chestnut Hill College; Philadelphia
              Police Department Lieutenant, Philadelphia, USA


Abstract: 'Can you name an African American (black) serial killer?' In the US, the
answer is often silence. For those who can remember it might be Wayne Williams, the
so-called 'Atlanta child murderer'. More astute individuals could mention the more recent
D.C. Snipers who, while not comparable to the traditional media portrayals of serial
killers, do qualify as such, based on the FBI's assessment. The existence of African
American serial killers is a fact that appears to have escaped the attention of the American
public. Previous research has identified 90 black serial killers beginning in 1945, yet
their notoriety and celebrity are absent from America's popular cultural landscape.
Despite the fact that numerous television shows, news reports and films address serial
murder in fictional and non-fictional portrayals, there remains a dearth of information
and portrayals regarding black serial killers. This is an interesting conundrum. The
media show little reticence in portraying black males as low-level criminals, but rarely
portray them as serial killers. This article suggests that the unquestioned ethnocentric
profile of the serial killer as a white male in the US was created by the FBI, and
subsequent media portrayals have reinforced this myth. Consequently, the predominant
media portrayals of serial murderers are white male perpetrators. The impact of race-
based assumptions among law enforcement agencies and the public regarding the crimi-
nality of any group poses a danger to that whole society.

Keywords:   African Americans; blacks; celebrity; serial killers; serial murders

The  way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe ... We only
see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. (Berger 1972, p.8)

The  lack of visibility and public awareness regarding black serial killers in
the US'  was created by law enforcement   agents and  its symbiotic relation-
ship with the media,  and it continues to be reinforced, even if unwittingly.
True  crime  books,  movies  and  television shows  rarely portray  African
Americans   as serial killers.! Equally significant has been the  dearth  of
scholarly literature on  these murderers,   save for work   by a few  social
scientists (for example,  Jenkins  1993;  Hickey  2002;  Walsh  2005),  fur-
ther reducing  their visibility and, therefore, public awareness. While the

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C 2012 The Author
The Howard Journal of Criminaljustice C 2012 The Howard League and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ UK

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