Using race in police descriptions of suspects

Our police reporter, Matt Lakin, received this note from a reader after his initial report about the shooting of a policeman and the detention of eight black males as suspects.
“I have just read your news story entitled “Search ongoing for suspects in shooting” in the May 21. 2008, News Sentinel. While I am very saddened at the horrific news of this very fine officer being shot, I want you to know that I am deeply offended by your first sentence in the first paragraph, “A routine burglar alarm call Tuesday ended with a veteran Knoxville police officer being shot for the second time in his career, eight black men being taken into custody and a community being sent into lockdown.”
“What on earth does the fact that the eight men are African American have anything to do with this crime? What does their race have to do with anything? If the eight men had been white, would you have mentioned their genetic heritage? I think not. I pray you aren’t deliberately trying to incite racial strife into this already tragic event. Surely, I am not the only subscriber to the News Sentinel you have offended by mentioning the race of these eight men. You and our society should be way beyond identifying and labeling people by their races.”
The issue of identifying criminal suspects — or anyone for that matter — by race is one we take quite seriously. Our rule is to avoid racial or ethnic descriptors unless they are germane to the story. The issue often arises when police are looking for a suspect and they issue a description that includes race. Naturally we want to help police track down suspects. But we also want to avoid vague, broad-brush labeling. We leave race out unless the description is detailed enough to offer some real hope of identifying an individual suspect.
In the case of the police shooting, we stuck with that policy, not including race in the description of the suspects in our early online reports. But by the time we were writing for print, police had eight black men in custody. The possibility of dragnet targeting black men became a dimension of the story we felt we had to report,. which we did along with comment from the NAACP.

7 thoughts on “Using race in police descriptions of suspects

  1. Chimpout dot Com

    I guess you’d rather use your paper for social engineering than report actual facts, such as the following:
    * “Blacks commit more violent crime against whites than against other blacks.

  2. Morrisminor

    I think the race is totally relevant. If those violent criminals were described as Chasidic Jews or Sikhs that would be significant if unusual. The only difference, unlike the black community, the Sikh and Chasidic community would disown such vermin instead of protecting and excusing them.

  3. Oriental, the left out minority

    Why not include race in police reports, if blacks are supposedly no more violent, criminal, or violent than other races then this should be included so accurate stats can be kept? WE ALL KNOW WHY, because you hear from those who claim “you wouldn’t say to ‘their’ face” because everyone knows deep in their heart Blacks are highly violent with no factual basis to offset it. Every city that has a black area is a “no go” area for other races, you don’t have this with Whites, Asians, Arabs, etc like you do in black neighborhoods. If you also notice blacks have a history of altercation with every ethnicity, because reality always clash with the false hype of media, there is a reason why black neighborhood property is cheap, dirt cheap, and even with high gas prices people are willing to drive, and all these people who talk about the “disadvanged negro” won’t live among them but will keep telling the lie about how racism is wrong.

  4. bluecyclone

    Race is a key identifier if I said 6’0″ 185 male white shirt blue jeans that is vague Police use every identifier they can white black brown etc. if they can they give shoe colar its not about race its about doing the best to get the right bad guy.

  5. vandykid

    Are you serious? Did anyone actually go to this site? I would recommend anyone here paying a visit; occasionally one forgets that racism still exists on the fringes of society. Let’s not remain silent with the assumption that everyone has the common sense to understand the stupidity of racism. And those statistics are not true. Crimes committed by African Americans most often victimize other African Americans. In addition, do some research on urban housing policies during the early to mid twentieth century and the manner in which the transition from a manufacturing based economy to a service oriented one in the 1970s eliminated already scare opportunities in many black communities. But then this makes all those crime rates seem tied to economics, turning otherwise moral and decent individuals into criminals due to a lack of decent employment in “blighted” areas. I suppose the outdated 1920s eugenics rhetoric of makes sense to some. To those: your time is over. Enjoy the fringes of society- we’ve outgrown you.

  6. Hate

    I think everyone here needs to stop by and express your outrage at those racist pinheads.
    I find it incredible that in America today people like this still exist.

  7. S A

    think about that a minute. how many black people have the white kills (example in africa, the negro trade in colonial time). tell me who invented the atomic bomb, how many white in suit are committing crimes. last time i check g.w. bush is white and without any real reason invaded iraq. hitler wasn’t he white…how many times in the news you see white man violating their own family (rapping their kids and such)
    i could go on and on…

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