Police Classifications Don't Fit in Media (Letter)

Mathieu Deflem
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This is a copy of a letter published in The Gamecock, March 22, 2006, p. 8.
Also available as PDF file (with related letters).

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2006. “Police Classifications Don’t Fit in Media.” Letter. The Gamecock, March 22, 2006, p. 8.

I would like to express my concern over a recent story in The Gamecock ("After Saturday attack, search on for shooter," March 20) in which mention is made of a student being shot in the shoulder by "a black male."

I would encourage the staff at The Gamecock in the future to use better judgment and develop a greater sense of responsibility in order to avoid such expressions that serve no identifiable purpose and that may have negative unintended consequences.

I assume the description "black male" was provided by the Columbia Police. However, while the physical description of a suspect in a criminal act can be relevant for the police, such a description has an entirely different meaning when it is adopted in a news article.

Specifying the gender and race of a suspect surely helps the police in their inquiries, but it is not relevant in a news story unless a case is made to the contrary and The Gamecock would hold the view that the suspect was shooting because he was black and male. I doubt this is the case.

Arguing that the description is factually accurate is not relevant, because many other descriptions would be accurate as well as would be similar descriptions of suspects and victims in other criminal incidents.

The negative impact towards the members in our community who happen to share the characteristics of such a description, also, can be considerable and their stigmatization is not something responsible journalism should contribute to.

Additional Note, April 17, 2006

The above letter was written in response to an article in the Gamecock. It led to a response, which in turn led three Gamecock readers to reply. All of these articles are available as a PDF file.

See related writings on university issues.