Why is race a necessary descriptor in the Public Safety column?

In your Wednesday, July 4th edition, I noticed that you included their race as a descriptor for two black men from Flint who were the subjects of a report. (“Alert tellers detect fraud attempt,” July 4, 2018, Lake Orion Review, p. 6.)

But none of the other six reports included the race of their subjects.

At first, I thought this might be because the Flint men were still at-large and it would help residents identify them. But no, they’d been arrested already.

Then I thought that maybe it was because they weren’t from Lake Orion. But no, the Lapeer woman wasn’t from Lake Orion, either. Her race wasn’t identified. I guess readers will just assume she’s white. In fact, I guess we’ll always just assume anybody whose race isn’t mentioned is white.

This may be unintentional, but it’s also insidiously racist.

As you create your column, please consider my conviction that if a person’s physical description isn’t germane to the report, their race shouldn’t be included.

Thank you.  Carol Roughton, Lake OrionOrion

Editor’s Note:

I spoke with Ms. Roughton to address her concerns and explain the newspaper’s decision to print the description of the suspects, including their race, in the public safety report.

In general, The Review publishes descriptions of suspects, including ethnicity and race, who authorities are actively seeking so that the public can contact authorities if they encounter the suspects or have additional information.

We also publish this descriptive information for suspects who have been arrested (and in this case, also arraigned) in case the suspects in that case are also potential suspects in other cases in which the public may have additional information.

All information in the public safety items comes from the respective police agencies – the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office or the Lake Orion Police Department.

These departments handle the release of information professionally and are careful not to release information that could be detrimental to an ongoing case; that could compromise suspects’ civil rights; or that isn’t legally deemed public information.

Most public safety news items in The Review do not describe suspects or victims by race/ethnicity, and the police do not provide this information unless the description is germane to the case.

Could we have left the racial descriptors out of this particular public safety item? Possibly. But then we would not have provided a full description of the suspects.

Was there any attempt to profile or stereotype the suspects in this case? Absolutely not.

Thank you, Ms. Roughton, for bringing to the forefront an issue that may be of concern to other readers as well – and one that bares addressing and repeating.

As a newspaper, we must remain cognizant of the fine line between publishing information that may be considered insensitive and that which is evaluated as necessary.

The Review will remain diligent in its efforts to ensure that bias, profiling and stereotyping, even inadvertently, does not seep into the newspaper.

Jim Newell

Lake Orion Review

 

 

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