Unpacking the Racially-Charged Term “Superpredators”

by: Ellen C. Caldwell
for JSTOR Daily

The term “superpredators” recently took centerstage nearly thirty years after its late-1990s invention. Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed documentary 13th—referring to the 13th amendment which abolished slavery and forced servitude except as a punishment to a crime—shed light on the racist American prison industrial complex and focused on the invention of racialized terminology which justified harsh crime bills disproportionately targeting black communities. President Bill Clinton’s 1996 Crime Bill, for instance, played on the exaggerated and invented crisis of “super predators.” In more recent times, white officer Darren Wilson used this same kind of language and imagery of a “demon” with “aggressive,” animal-like behavior in his 2014 grand jury testimony for the killing of Michael Brown.

In a 2004 study, Michael Welch, Eric Price, and Nana Yankey argue that the media has played an important role in “the social construction” of terms such as “mugging,” “wilding,” and “wolfpacks,” used to dehumanize and demonize alleged criminals.

Welch, Price, and Yankey’s study specifically analyzed the history of the term “wilding,” from its invention in 1989 (as the media used it to describe the five accused perpetrators of the now infamous “Central Park jogger” case), traced through its usage until 1998…

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