Suspect description used by Alexandria Times helps no one

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By Richard Prince, Alexandria
(Stock photo)

To the editor:

I’m a robbery suspect!

At least, according to a description published by the Alexandria Times in the crime section of the January 16 edition. The masked man who held up the Del Ray post office was “described as a black man between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-10 with a thin build.” I’m one of the thousands of people whom that description fits, and I live not too far from the post office.

Best practices in the journalism world hold that descriptions of crime suspects should be published only when they are detailed enough to warrant them.

One authority, Keith Woods, now vice president for diversity in news and operations at NPR, once wrote: “Journalists probably wouldn’t say, “The suspect appeared to be Italian,’ or ‘Police are looking for a middle-aged man described as Jewish-looking.’

“There are good reasons those descriptions never see the light of day. They generalize. They stereotype. And they require that everyone who hears the description has the same idea of what those folks look like. All Irish-Americans don’t look alike. Why, then, accept a description that says a suspect was African-American?”

I have written about this issue myself (http://bit.ly/ynjuR8).

Please, Alexandria Times, I was nowhere near the Del Ray post office when the robbery took place. Please don’t give readers the impression that I was.