CNN Brushes Off Description Of Freddie Gray’s Mother As Heroin Addict As 'Mistake'

By May Wilkerson 12/03/15

CNN removed Gray's description as “the son of an illiterate heroin addict” after a social media backlash.

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CNN has removed a description of Freddie Gray as “the son of an illiterate heroin addict,” after a fierce social media backlash. Gray, who was black, died while in police custody in the spring, sparking wide protests in Baltimore and drawing national attention to the problem of police brutality towards African Americans.

Published Monday, the report details the first day of jury selection in the trial of William Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in Gray’s death. The reference to his mother’s heroin addiction, as social media and various media sources pointed out, seemed a lot like victim blaming.

Gray was arrested for allegedly carrying an illegal knife and died in police custody from a fatal spinal cord injury, allegedly caused by him thrashing around in the back of a moving police vehicle with no seat belt on. Whether or not his mother had used heroin would have no bearing on the conditions of his death.

The original line, posted with the story on Monday, was removed that evening. In an editor's note, CNN said the reference was deleted "because it appeared out of context." CNN President Jeff Zucker dismissed the description of Gray’s mother as a "mistake."

According to a transcript of a town hall event, Zucker said: The digital team removed it last night and inserted an editor’s note to be completely transparent. The editorial intent as the digital team has laid it out to me was to make clear he had a difficult upbringing. But clearly it did not come across that way when it was written and published. We recognize that. It did not work and we removed it. And were transparent about that. That was a mistake."

But their “mistake” reflects an unfortunate pattern. As Vox reports, “the media has a bizarre history of demonizing black men and characterizing them as troubled.” This “troubled” background is often attributed to drug or alcohol use, such as in the case of Trayvon Martin, whose past marijuana use was widely cited by the media after he was killed by George Zimmerman in 2013. Michael Brown, of Ferguson, Mo., was described by the New York Times as "no angel” and allegedly had marijuana in his system at the time he was gunned down by Officer Darren Wilson last year.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/ @alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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