Monday, September 7, 2015

Do we lose anything by not reading of ‘male blacks’ committing crimes?

For all the people who want to believe we’re in a post-racial world where “white” and “black” don’t carry the same stigmas they used to, the outcry over a rural Illinois newspaper’s decision to back away from racial labels in their crime reporting shows we have a ways to go before we really get to that point.

The Daily Chronicle of DeKalb, Ill., said last week it was going to quit using suspect descriptions in cases where the best the police could come up with was that the would-be defendant was a “male black.”

THEY’RE STILL WILLING to offer a description if they have any details about the person being sought that would mean anything. Eye color. Hair style. Any tattoos or scars. Approximate height or weight.

Something, anything other than just that they’re looking for a “black man.”

Which actually was a pet peeve of mine back in the days when I covered crime full time in Chicago for the now-defunct City News Bureau.

Too many people “didn’t see nuthin’” to the point where a crude “it was a black man” is all too often the only thing police are told.

AND AS THE Daily Chronicle pointed out in its commentary last week that announced the new policy, there are times when people just make up that description.

Perhaps they just want to believe that crime is something natural for black people. Or perhaps they think anyone who is not paler than themselves deserves to be thought of as “black” (as in “non-white”).

Making a point of writing that a criminal suspect is nothing more than a “male black” (if they’re trying to write in legalese, “black male” if they think they’re writing in English).

Which I would argue is just as wrong. “Black man” is better, although equally as vague and pointless a description. After all, not all “males” are human beings. If it really is a male chimpanzee that killed a person, that is a radically different type of story.

YET AS I mentioned earlier, there is an outcry. Facebook and the Daily Chronicle websites are both filled with rants from the public (most anonymous, of course) about how the newspaper is “idiotic” and engaging in PC nonsense.

These people seem to think there’s something significant in knowing that a suspect being sought by the police is a black man, or at least not a white guy. It reinforces the stereotypes they want to believe about our society.

Just like the one person who came up with a posting that is an attempt to parody “ghetto-speak” and claim to be thanking the newspaper for not wanting to acknowledge the reality that black people commit so many crimes.

Which makes me think the only people who really have a problem with this attempt to not clutter up news copy with irrelevant detail are the ones to whom the irrelevance is the reality they want to ram down the rest of our throats.

SO WHAT SHOULD we really think about the DeKalb newspaper’s decision to do something that I wish the old City News Bureau would have done decades ago (City News used to love to pile on excess detail in stories to the point where they often resulted in convoluted copy).

Some people argue that even a pitiful description that a “black man” was involved in a crime is better than nothing, and that a newspaper ought not to be holding back on details.

Yet the reality is that writing a news story is often a choice of picking which details matter enough to make it in the tiny amount of space available on the printed page. (No, the Internet doesn’t really offer more space, since many readers don’t want to scan through multiple computer screens to read a full story).

And a pointless phrase like “black man” with nothing to back it up is just a waste of space!


No comments: