When Should News Reports Identify Suspects By Race?


A Raleigh News & Observer story on the latest Duke sex-crime case brought new complaints about why the newspaper does not identify crime suspects by race? The story said that a female Duke student had reported being raped at a student party off-campus. The suspect was described as “being in his late teens or early 20s, about 6-foot-1 and wearing a black do-rag, a gray sweatshirt and blue jeans.” The newspaper’s policy is to use a racial identification only if it is part of a detailed description, or “when a crime or court case involves race.” The Charlotte Observer has a similar policy but identified the suspect in this case as black.

News & Observer public editor Ted Vaden says that, “Describing someone as young, average height and black is not a useful description. Information about clothing often is not helpful.” Vaden notes that sketchy descriptions can be “woefully unhelpful.” An unidentified journalist says that some reader requests for more information are “frankly racist. Some people who call in want to solidify their own belief that all crimes [ ] are committed by African-American men and Mexican-American men.” Vaden perfers to “Use specific descriptors, such as complexion, and not race, which is not a description.”

Link: http://www.newsobserver.com/576/story/544311.html

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