On settler panics: Steven Kohm, Katharina Maier, ‘“The darkest time in our history”: An analysis of news media constructions of liquor theft in Canada’s settler colonial context’, Crime Media Culture, 2022


Abstract: In September 2018, there was a surge of news stories about liquor store theft in Winnipeg,
Canada that resulted in public and political calls for action, and ultimately led to the
introduction of a range of new security and surveillance measures at government owned
liquor stores. This brief news cycle provided opportunities for various social actors, politicians,
and authorities to make claims about the nature of crime and society more broadly. This
article analyzes recent news media coverage of liquor store theft in Winnipeg, Canada and
the social construction of an ostensibly new crime trend in the city: “brazen” liquor store
thefts. We employ a qualitative content analysis of news articles about liquor store theft
published in local Winnipeg news media between 2018 and 2020 (n = 147). Drawing on the
social constructionist paradigm, and Fishman’s conceptualization of “crime waves,” we argue
that the framing of liquor theft via news media reflects longstanding cultural tropes and
myths about crime, as well as hinting at but never fully confronting, deeply engrained colonial
and racialized stereotypes. This paper contributes to our understanding of the ways putative
social problems are made intelligible in the media. We demonstrate how “crime waves” are
shaped by and shape dominant tropes about crime, safety, and citizenship. We argue that
something as mundane as liquor theft reveals much about the historical, colonial and social
roots of crime in local and national contexts.

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