An article headlined “Durham crime crosses over into Chapel Hill” was published Tuesday in The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to being journalistically unsound, the article itself reveals the problematic biases embedded within the narrative of these two cities and their relationship, which arise out of the framing of the writer’s reporting.
First, the article used rather weak statistical analysis in its argument, omitting a number of highly relevant statistics, such as the potential influence of other cities’ criminal activity on that of Chapel Hill’s, the number of Chapel Hill residents implicated in Durham crimes and trends over time. While the writer acknowledges that Durham is at least four times more populous than Chapel Hill, she does not incorporate this into her analysis. She uses absolute instead of per-capita crime statistics, which is misleading given population differences. Her blunt deployment of median income statistics with minimal analysis also generalizes complex social phenomena.
In this way, the article reflects biases toward and potentially mobilizes fear of Durham and its residents. It reinforces the stereotype of the city as a poor, crime-ridden place that should be further divided from Chapel Hill. “Durham and Chapel Hill are separated only by a 10-or-so-mile stretch of road,” the article begins. “There are no fences, no check points, and thousands of people flow in and out of the cities’ border each day without a second thought.” This is a perplexing observation, given the lack of barriers and border crossings between cities within the United States. With such language, the writer frames her article with a fear-mongering tone. The article, with its quotes on “gang-banger guys” and extrapolation on wealth differences based on median income alone, insinuates stereotypes that have been applied to Durham for years. There is a long history of alarmist Durham narratives, and this article suggests that they may be alive and well.
Furthermore, the article addresses a single aspect of the Durham-Chapel Hill relationship—and does so clumsily. In reality, Durham and Chapel Hill are part of the same ecosystem, creating symbioses that bring significant benefits to both cities. When the article notes the lack of fences and check points on U.S. 15-501, it casually minimizes the culture, research, commerce and leisure shared between the two cities, resources enjoyed by many in the Duke and UNC communities. Also, numerous Chapel Hill residents, including Duke faculty and staff, commute daily to Durham to work, and vice-versa. Both Duke and UNC put a lot of resources into fostering this bond and enriching the interactions between cities. An article of this kind undermines that relationship and can potentially render those investments futile. As vertices of the Research Triangle, we should be pushing for greater integration, not erecting fences or checkpoints, mental or physical. The relationship between Durham and Chapel Hill has its less positive aspects, but The Daily Tar Heel’s article treated them in an insular, alarmist and biased way based on preconceptions. The article paints Durham as a violent city and characterizes its residents as menaces to keep out. The true problem is not the lack of fences or checkpoints—it’s ignorance.