Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich writes of the “quandary” faced by journalists who must decide whether to use racial identifications in crime stories. The issue was raised by readers when the Tribune failed to cite the race of a dozen teens who attacked and robbed five people on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s toniest shopping district last Saturday. The youths were black. Readers accused the paper of political correctness and of using a double standard.
Schmich writes, “So why would a news organization avoid a fact? This fact? It’s a reasonable question, even if many of the people asking it on Internet comment boards have wrapped it up in irrational, irresponsible venom. I’m ambivalent about the omission of the attackers’ race in the news accounts, but I think I would have decided to leave it out too. As an editor pointed out when I asked about it, the crimes don’t appear to be racially motivated. There’s no sign the criminals picked victims because they were of a certain race. They picked them because they had certain stuff…Here’s the quandary, for editors, for cops, for all of us: Race alone doesn’t predict or explain behavior. Just because this mob was young and black hardly means that all young, black people in groups are a violent mob. Knowing the race of these attackers is no form of protection. And yet race is an aspect of what happened Saturday night.”