Framing Identity: The Press in Crown Heights

By Carol B. Conaway

A paper by Carol B. Conaway, fall 1994 fellow, examines the media coverage of the 1991 Crown Heights riot, which was sparked when two Caribbean-American children were struck by an automobile in the motorcade of a Jewish sect leader. Conaway asks: How did the press frame the antagonists and the conflict that occurred in Crown Heights during and after the disturbances? What themes and story lines were used to organize the facts in news reports? Did the frames that were used to organize the narrative provide an accurate picture of who and what was involved? This study hypothesizes that news reporters failed to frame precisely the identity of the antagonists. Thus, the way they framed the conflict conveyed the wrong meaning. This study argues that if the press had framed the identity of the antagonists as African-American, Caribbean-American, and Lubavitch Hasidim, rather than as blacks and Jews, or blacks and whites, they would not have framed the conflict or the victims as primarily racial. Instead, they would have framed the Crown Heights affair as a conflict involving three distinct ethnic groups in which African- and Caribbean-Americans attacked not all “whites,” but Lubavitch Jews.

Download the paper (PDF).