Why I'm Disappointed by the Media Frenzy Surrounding the McDonald's Girl Fight

by Felice León

By now you’ve heard of the fight involving seven teenage Black girls (six suspects and one victim) that took place in a Brooklyn McDonald’s. The video was uploaded online and went viral, making national headlines—not only for the fight itself, but the media’s frenzied obsession with the teen girls involved.

To this day, the story is still receiving coverage. But when is enough, enough?

Fighting amongst teenagers has never, ever been acceptable. In fact, this behavior is deplorable. But it is, unfortunately, very common: teenagers get into fights. A few days prior to the fight at the Flatbush McDonald’s, teen boys were caught fighting in Long Island over a racially motivated dispute. Weapons, in the form of brass knuckles and bats, were used and the fight was (at least in part) recorded. This brawl involved both Black and white teenagers and was a one-day-wonder in the media. Yet, farther west, on the very same island, the fiasco at McDonald’s has been well documented—with news reports on the initial brawl, as well as follow-up coverage as police made efforts to find and arrest each suspect.

Why is this so different?

According to news sources, that very McDonald’s has been the locale of many fights amongst teens. In some ways, this is the reality of growing up in large urban centers like New York City: folks get “jumped.” But what bothers me is why the video has been so pervasive, and how the news media has been so irresponsible in how its covered the story and those involved.

To say that images of Black girls fighting aren’t good or healthy is an understatement. They are noxious and serve to reinforce a negative perception of Black women in the media. This sort of imagery perpetuates a myopic notion of Black girls audiences: that we are excessively violent, especially towards one another. God forbid viewers with little-to-no interaction with Black youth accept this idea. The troubling images have evolved as the case has developed: The video and subsequent investigation led to the girls involved being arrested, their names being shared with the public, and details about their pasts being blasted.

Some publications, like The New York Daily News were at the forefront of the media frenzy. One particular headline they chose to use was especially troubling: “Brute arrested for stomping victim in McDonald's beatdown video has prior arrests for stabbing her brother, punching grandmother (GRAPHIC VIDEO).” Beyond the textual representation of the story, the leading picture they chose is also harmful. It is a double image of who they call the fight’s “ringleader” standing in a purple bra, a screenshot taken from the video. They also include the video within the story, further adding to its pervasiveness. On YouTube, it continued to gain nearly 37,000 views in just over a week.

Throughout the piece, The New York Daily News used terms like “savages,” “brutes” and “hoodie-wearing assailant” to describe the Brooklyn girls. I find the word “brute” to be particularly offensive. The Brute was a caricature of the Black male slave created in the South. It essentially equated Black men with being beasts. According to this narrative, the brute often attempted to attack innocent white women. Today, the word still holds racist connotations, partially in how it compares a human being to resembling an animal. In fact, when the word is used as a noun—as it was in the Daily News article—Merriam-Webster defines it as “a cruel rough or violent man,” and/or a “beast.”

The girls involved in the fight have complex and difficult pasts. Some of them are teen mothers, or children of teen mothers. Some of them have difficult pasts, and are repeat offenders. And all of them have been vulnerable to the social ills of growing up in the inner-city, where support and resources are not always available for young people of color. It is unfair to call them “brutes,” comparing them to animals, however misguided the girls may be. The publication editorialized, by tainting the perception of the reader and leading us to an opinion, rather than simply stating the facts. This was not a good journalistic practice.

Plus, I should add that these images are also severely harmful to the psyche of young women that view and share these videos. By seeing a negative image of their peers fighting again and again—and the media attention that surrounds it—this behavior becomes normalized. Thus, a standard is created where violent and unacceptable behavior, like fighting, is emulated and even praised. This isn’t the narrative that I want for these young women, nor should it be the narrative that they want for themselves.

Initially, I refused to watch the video. I knew the details of the story but didn’t want to feed into the sensationalized media. Nor did I want to put into the universe any energy that would contribute to the negative stereotyping of Black girls. Eventually I watched, to better inform my ability to write this story.

What I saw was indeed not six “brutes” or “savages”. I saw six girls. Sure, the girls are past puberty, but they are still young and unsure of themselves. Their minds, bodies, and identities are still developing. More than anything, they are in need of guidance and support.

Where were the adults at the McDonald’s? Why did no one step-in? At the very end of the altercation, one man intervened, but by then the 15-year old victim was lying on the ground. She was soon moved to a bench. I can’t understand how any sound-minded adult wouldn’t try to intervene or call for help.

The three-minute video is hard to watch. By the end, I had tears in my eyes. I was saddened by the violence that the girls used towards each other and the lack of respect for themselves and their peers. More than anything, I was also saddened that news organizations would aggrandize this fight and curate this image, allowing it to be repeated again and again.

Our girls deserve better.

Photo: New York Daily News

Felice León is a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and freelance journalist from New York. You can follow her on Twitter @RTSWFL.

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