Is the color of a person’s skin important in crime stories?, asks editor William Ketter of the Lawrence (Ma.) Eagle Tribune. “Racial identity should always be included, and to deliberately omit it denies the public critical information,” he says. On July 15, in a story cited in Crime & Justice News, the Boston Herald said a “new edict” on racial descriptions in crime stories had stirred “a mini-brouhaha about political correctness run amok” at the Eagle-Tribune.
Ketter said the Herald story was “off the mark.” The policy has been in place for many years. Ketter says the Herald’s description of our policy took on a life of its own on the Internet. White supremacist sites and blogs dedicated to challenging political correctness wrongly “assumed we never identify criminal suspects by race,” Ketter says. “That is not so. We do when race, including the identity of a white person, is clearly relevant to the story; when it is important to understanding the story, such as a racial crime, or to alerting the public to a safety threat.” Ketter says the newpaper avoids citing race when the police description is so sketchy it does not help distinguish the suspect and could apply to many innocent people.