Suspect description used by Alexandria Times helps no one


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 (

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.




  1. Richard,

    To me it sounds like your opinion is racially motivated, so please forgive me if I am wrong? I believe the Alextimes gets their suspect description from the Alexandria Police who get the description provided by witnesses who actually witnessed the crime. Therefore, I don’t believe any bias exists, it’s just what could be gathered from witnesses. It’s understandable that someone going through such an experience would only be able to recall a vague description.

    Apparently you believe it would be more politically correct to not include any suspect description at all? I have heard the smallest clue might break a case. Maybe someone now recalls seeing someome of the vague description in the area around the time of the crime and can add a clue. If the police begin holding back descriptions, they would get criticism for withholding info. I find your post full of bias and lacking rational thinking.