“When You Choose to be a Gangbanger, You Deserve Everything You Get”: Victim Dichotomization, Fear, and the Problem Frame

Date01 November 2018
Published date01 November 2018
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17UL4k1NHvd9D4/input 787729CCJXXX10.1177/1043986218787729Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeGushue and Wong
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2018, Vol. 34(4) 364 –382
“When You Choose to be
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
a Gangbanger, You Deserve
DOI: 10.1177/1043986218787729
Everything You Get”: Victim
Dichotomization, Fear, and
the Problem Frame
Kelsey Gushue1 and Jennifer S. Wong1
Media framing of an event can have a significant impact on both reader response and
public opinion. Through an examination of the deadliest gang-related murder to ever
occur in British Columbia, the current study extends previous research by analyzing
the influence of victim characteristics on the development of a problem frame. We
analyze all newspaper articles published in the Vancouver Sun mentioning at least one
of the murder victims between October 19, 2007, and December 31, 2016 (N = 210).
Results suggest that journalists use a number of techniques when creating a problem
frame, including victim differentiation, purposeful inclusion of sources, and use of
specific language. We argue that the extensive coverage of the murders provided an
opportunity for the media to develop a problem frame that dichotomized victims,
capitalized on societal fear of crime, and, consequently, affected calls for policy change.
content analysis, homicide, gangs, victims, media presentation
On October 19, 2007, six people were murdered in the penthouse suite of the Balmoral
Towers in Surrey, British Columbia (BC)—a suburban city located in Metro
Vancouver. The shootings, dubbed the “Surrey Six Slayings” (S6S) by the media,
represent the deadliest gang-related mass shooting to ever occur in BC, and acted as
a turning point for the provincial media focus on gang violence (Gravel, Wong, &
1Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Jennifer S. Wong, Associate Professor, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University
Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5A 1S6.
Email: jenwong@sfu.ca

Gushue and Wong
Simpson, 2017). The Red Scorpions (RS), a prominent mid-level street gang in Metro
Vancouver at the time, ordered and carried out the murders. Four members of the RS
were charged: Dennis Karbovanec, Cody Haevischer, Matt Johnston, and Jamie
Bacon (Bolan, 2009b). Karbovanec pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree
murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder (Bolan, 2009b). Haevischer
and Johnston were convicted of six counts of first-degree murder and one count of
conspiracy to commit murder (Bolan, 2014b; Mulgrew, 2009). Jamie Bacon was
charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit
murder (Mulgrew, 2009). As of yet, Bacon has not been tried or convicted in the
offenses, although he has been held in custody since April 2009 and is scheduled to
go to trial in March 2018 (Bolan, 2016).
According to media and police reports, at 2:23 p.m. on October 19, 2007,
Karbovanec, Haevischer, and Johnston executed a plan to kill rival drug trafficker
Corey Lal (Bolan, 2014a). Using a friend’s key fob, the three RS gang members gained
access to the Balmoral Towers (Bolan, 2013a). Inside suite 1505 were brothers Corey
and Michael Lal, Ryan Bartolomeo, and Ed Schellenberg (Bolan, 2014a). The fifth
victim, Eddie Narong, arrived at the apartment while the murders were in progress.
The final victim, Christopher Mohan, was leaving an adjacent apartment to play bas-
ketball with friends when he came into contact with the killers and was pulled into the
penthouse suite (Bolan, 2014a). Each of the six victims was shot in the back of the
head while laying face down on the floor. Evidence suggests that Michael Lal,
Bartolomeo, Narong, Schellenberg, and Mohan were all murdered to prevent wit-
nesses to the killing of Corey Lal (Bolan, 2013a).
Of the six victims, two can be described as classically innocent bystanders: Ed
Schellenberg and Christopher Mohan. Schellenberg was a 55-year-old husband and
father who was involved in the community and deeply religious; he worked as a fire-
place repairman and on the day of the murders was inspecting fireplaces in all of the
Balmoral Towers suites (Bolan, 2007). Mohan was a 22-year-old student who lived
across the hall from Suite 1505 (Bolan, 2009b) and was described as a loving family
member, sports fanatic, and car enthusiast (Alonzo, 2007; Bolan, 2012). The four
other victims of the murder, brothers Corey Lal and Michael Lal, Eddie Narong, and
Ryan Bartolomeo, were in some way associated with gangs and the drug trade (Bolan,
2009b). The purpose of this study is to analyze the role of victim characteristics in the
development of problem frames, using the media reporting of the S6S to provide
Newsworthiness and Victim Characteristics
Producers of print media and journalists are in the unique position to decide what
events or issues are worthy of reporting (Brüggemann, 2014). In a general sense, crime
is seen as an essential feature of print media (Dowler, 2004a). But, even within print
media reports of crime, there is a hierarchy of newsworthiness affected by victim,
offender, and event characteristics. Of particular interest is the manner in which jour-
nalists use victim characteristics to differentiate between the relative newsworthiness

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 34(4)
of crime victims. Examples of these victim characteristics include ethnicity (Dowler,
2004b; Gruenewald, Chermak, & Pizarro, 2013; Gruenewald, Pizarro, & Chermak,
2009), age (Gekoski, Gray, & Adler, 2012), gender (Dowler, Fleming, & Muzzatti,
2006; Gekoski et al., 2012; Gruenewald et al., 2013), and victim criminal involvement
(Gekoski et al., 2012; Gruenewald et al., 2009). Characteristics drawn upon in the
media are highly reminiscent of characteristics used in understanding cases of victim-
precipitated homicide.
Victim precipitation, as originally defined by Wolfgang (1957), is a homicide “in
which the victim is a direct, positive precipitator in the crime” (p. 2). Wolfgang’s
(1957) definition was limited to instances in which the homicide victim physically
precipitated their death, for example, throwing the first punch in an altercation. The
victimology literature has divulged from this strict definition to include less direct
ways in which a homicide victim can contribute to their death, such as association
with criminal peers and involvement in high-risk situations (Meier & Miethe,
1993). Ideas of victim precipitation are also frequently applied to other crimes that
impact the bodily integrity of the victim. For example, in 1987, Estrich coined the
term “real rape”; a sexual assault in which everyone agrees that the victim was
“actually” a victim: committed by a stranger and not precipitated in any way by the
actions of the victim. Thus, victim legitimacy appears to be associated with notions
of whether or not the victim played a role, in any way, in their assault. Underlying
these ideas of victim precipitation is an attribution, at least in part, of blame to the
victim. Wolfgang’s (1957) work was criticized for exactly this reason, although
never as staunchly as research analyzing victim precipitation in sexual assault cases
(Meier & Miethe, 1993). When certain homicide event characteristics coincide
(e.g., cultural context, gender, age, ethnicity, victim–offender relationship), the
result, according to Soothill, Peelo, Francis, Pearson, and Ackerley (2002), can be
a “mega-crime” (p. 419).
Mega-Crimes and Moral Panics
A mega-crime is a homicide that, due to both cultural and event characteristics, creates
widespread and sustained media attention (Soothill et al., 2002). As a result, mega-
crimes become “a part of the cultural context within which we understand homicide
and within which journalistic choices about reporting are made” (Soothill et al., 2002,
p. 420). In many ways, mega-crimes can be seen as an example of, yet are unique from
moral panics. A moral panic is “a condition, episode, person or group of persons
emerge to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests” (Cohen, 2002,
p. 1). The media plays a significant role in both generating and sustaining moral panics
(Cohen, 2002). Cohen (2002) identified three elements necessary for the construction
of a moral panic: suitable enemy, suitable victim, and belief that the homicide is reflec-
tive of a larger societal issue. Both mega-crimes and moral panics involve a require-
ment that the homicide align with a wider social discourse at the time to fully develop
(Cohen, 2002; Peelo, 2006; Soothill et al., 2002; Soothill, Peelo, Pearson, & Francis,
2004). Where mega-crimes and moral panics diverge is on the issue of volatility. One

Gushue and Wong
of the key features of a moral panic, according to Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994), is
volatility (i.e., a sudden appearance and disappearance of the issue). In contrast, mega-
crimes are characterized by sustained media attention and societal resonance (Soothill
et al., 2002). Given these differences, Peelo (2006) argues that approaching mega-
crimes from a moral panic framework is insufficient. Rather, Peelo (2006) asserts that
to fully understand media reporting of homicide, analyses must be conducted that can
account for changes in reporting over...

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