Dying over a phone

The death of an 11-year-old shows us how working-class communities come together to protect each other - and how they’re demonized in the media

By Brenda Focas & Evangelina Caravaca, EIDAES UNSAM/ Conicet scientists

What can you say about the death of an 11-year-old girl who was going to school, like she did every day? Arguments lack sense and reason in the face of such a death: unjust, scandalous, and morally unacceptable.

The words we’re putting on the page here neither exhaust nor fully capture how incomprehensible Morena’s death was. Nonetheless, we would like to reflect on some aspects of what happened.

You may also be interested: Girl, 11, dies after robbery at gates of her school in Lanús

Morena Domínguez was making her way to school in Villa Diamante, in the southern Buenos Aires suburb of Lanús, the morning she was assaulted and beaten by attackers who stole her phone. 

Her grandfather had gone with her to the bus stop, and she was meant to message him to let her know she’d arrived safely. That small example of her daily routine shows the strategies that neighbors in vulnerable neighborhoods have to use every day in pursuit of security. They arrange to wait for the bus together, set up WhatsApp groups to warn each other about possible robberies, and share taxis when the bus doesn’t come.

For more than 20 years, insecurity has been a public problem for Argentine society. It’s one of the issues that worries Argentines the most, along with the economy. In this context, young men from the suburbs are perpetrators par excellence, even though they are actually victims: it’s inhabitants of poor neighborhoods who suffer the most from insecurity. 

Not only do they deal with it, they also generate community strategies to mitigate its impact on their daily lives. A case like Morena’s and the protests over her death show us what the inhabitants of these neighborhoods have to do in their day-to-day lives to arrange security that the state doesn’t guarantee them.

The news quickly went viral, with imprecise and incorrect information that shaped and framed the issue: an 11-year-old girl was murdered by thieves aged 14 on a motorbike. Although it was later proved that the attackers were adults, the effect of this idea was already installed in the public opinion. This gave rise to punitive discourse that left its mark in the context of the elections.

We know: security is a polarizing issue in Argentine society, and misinformation builds perceptions and consolidates biased beliefs. Diego Kravetz, interim mayor and current secretary of security of the Municipality of Lanús — where he is also running for Mayor — claimed in various media that within hours of Morena’s death, not only had the culprits already been arrested, but also that a minor had confessed. 

Although the prosecutor working on the case denied it, the news went viral, trending on social media. For days, the face of a minor entering a police station has been circulating in the media.

The media covered the issue with big headlines, with images of the girl circulating on the front pages, repeating the video and photos of Morena. This revictimized the victim, who was also a minor. The images of daily violence saturated the screens this week, interpellating audiences that oscillate between anger, apathy and sadness. What is the ethical limit to viralizing this news with no qualms about how it will affect the victims? How many images of violence are we as audiences willing to endure?

We believe it is important to insist on journalistic mores that respect the rights of the victims, as well as working towards images that tend more towards information and less towards infotainment.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald