Thursday, July 06, 2006

Yeah, right

Here's an unusually clear example of why newspapers need to be cautious about the gratuitous use of race or ethnicity as physical description in crime stories:

A 22-year-old Columbia man was arrested late Monday night on suspicion of first-degree robbery, armed criminal action and second-degree assault after he allegedly brandished a handgun and demanded money from a man at Eighth and Alton streets.

Local Resident was taken into custody in the 900 block of Range Line Street shortly after the alleged crime was reported at 10:18 p.m. The victim told police a black man approached him, produced a handgun and demanded money. The suspect then fled on foot.

Based on the victim’s description of the suspect, police found Resident and took him to the Boone County Jail.

First off, since the suspect has already been caught, the idea that running a description of him is relevant is several degrees left of silly. Which is a good thing, given that the causal link that opens the third graf is preposterous on its face:
1) Victim (since it's only an "alleged crime," should he be an "alleged victim"?) says "It was a black man!"
2) Armed with that, Dogberry & Co. focus in like a laser beam and get their suspect. (Though since the writer has already declared that the suspect and the criminal are the same person, maybe we should make it "alleged suspect." Or "swarthy gun-wielding fiend." Whatever.)

To which one can only say: Yeah, right. And how many suns shine down on your home planet?

None of the usual flimsy excuses help here. You haven't helped the cops. You haven't armed the citizenry with useful wisdom. All you've done is reinforce the impression that The Meedja are still stuck in the 1930s: We only mention race when it's black.

Those of us who have tried to dispel that misimpression over the past few decades would appreciate it if you guys would stop trying to hold us back.


Blogger John Cowan said...

It should say "criminal fled on foot" and "description of the criminal". What Local Resident described is who he saw. It was the cops who decided later that Suspect matched that description.

12:27 PM, July 23, 2006  

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