Photo by Wayne Silver, Flickr CC

Last month, a Texas law enforcement officer opened fire on a van of several Black teenage boys, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. His death reminded many of the cell phone footage showing a Los Angeles off-duty white officer dragging a 13-year-old Latino boy by the collar while pointing a gun, or the McKinney, TX officer who drew his gun on multiple Black youth at a pool party in 2015. During media coverage of Edwards’ death, the media emphasized his honor roll status and the fact that he was a “good student,” and thus not deserving of this treatment. This is not always the way mistreatment of minority youth is framed, however, and sociological research on youth victimization finds that minority youth are often excluded from the category of “true” or “ideal” victimhood, which ultimately works to legitimize their victimization.

Societal notions of childhood characterize children as innocent and pure in contrast to the deviant adult world. Society employs these images of innocence to address children’s vulnerability to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. However, when children’s behaviors contradict traditional notions of innocence and purity, adults tend to exclude them from the social and legal protection that childhood often affords. 
This inclusion and exclusion of some children from social and legal protection is highly racialized. Images of childhood innocence and victimization typically feature mainstream images of white girls and boys, leaving minority children excluded. Not only that, schools and law enforcement view Black and Latino boys as dangerous and often ignore or downplay their everyday experiences of violence.
Despite encountering high levels of street and interpersonal violence, Black and Latina girls’ victimization remains largely neglected in comparison to their white female peers. Minority girls living in high crime environments often feel pressure from adults to adhere to notions of being “good girls.” Yet, to survive such environments, many minority girls feel they must forgo traditional feminine roles and engage in physical confrontations with other girls and/or men. In doing so, they are criminalized, depicted as bad girls and “ghetto chicks,” and excluded from societal ideals of victimhood.