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Disrupting “Good” vs. “Bad” Person Binaries by Humanizing Victims of Urban Homicide

"In the summer of 2023, Dr. Byron, Malea Marxer, Ellie Barnett-Cashman, and Lily Baeza did a content analysis of nearly 300 obituaries in the summer of 2023. Working with obituaries from the Philadelphia Obituary Project website, we used a uniform code sheet to code for data such as the victim's demographics and the personality of victims. The motivation behind our project was to disrupt the “good” vs. “bad” person binaries by humanizing victims of urban homicide. We noticed that we as a general population know very little about the victims of everyday urban violence. This is due to things such as deficits and distortion in the media about who the victims were and little to no media coverage if the victim did NOT fit the “ideal victim” stereotype.

We aim to change the narratives of urban homicide victims and hone in on critical race theory’s tenet of counternarratives (in this case- giving a voice to minoritized people). For the demographics of the POP Obit samples, 72% of the victims were Black men followed by 9.4% Latino men and 74% of the sample was under the age of 30. While we do have some data on the cause of death of the victims, not all of them had the cause of death listed. For 15% of the sample, the proximal cause of death was more nuanced than typical victim-offender overlap predictions assumed. This data humanizes the victims as when we hear of a victim of urban violence, we assume that they must be a bad person. By working to destigmatize and humanize homicide victims we hope to motivate more privileged citizens to see themselves in these largely Black and Brown victims, sense the enormous familial and societal loss, and use this interest convergence to support violence prevention policy change."