Is that being racist?

“Should I call someone or is that being racist?

These words were in the day before yesterday’s post, but I had to bring them up to the top again and put them into bold letters. They are so important to understanding one of the most dangerous sides of promoting racial sensitivity over truth. The person who thought this, said this and came very close to not acting on this, almost cost many Americans their lives.

When the teen and another employee went into a back room and began the conversion of the tape, they saw a group of bearded men wearing “fundamentalist attire” and shooting “big, f-ing guns,” the teen later told co-workers.

Throughout the 90-minute-long tape, above the booming gunfire at a Pennsylvania target range, the jihadists could be heard screaming “God is great!”

The two employees “freaked out,” their co-worker recalled.

At first, the teenage clerk didn’t know what to do, his pal said.

“Dude, I just saw some really weird s-,” he frantically told his co-worker. “I don’t know what to do. Should I call someone or is that being racist?”

The fellow employee tried to calm his friend and told him that if what he saw terrified him so much, he should tell the police.

The teen first consulted with a manager before making the 911 call.
NY Post

Hopefully anyone reading this will know this as the words of the Circuit City clerk who helped foil a jihad on US soil. Luckily, he did act on this, but what if the fellow employee also thought it might be racist? Would they have gotten to the manager? What if the manager thought it was racist? If either of these situations happened then the next persons to know about the conspiracy would be the US soldiers as they died at the hands of the men shouting “god is great.”

I don’t wish to condemn, nor judge anyone based solely on race but most situations including this one, rarely involve only racial issues. I don’t think we are a great nation and people because we ignore or deny racial differences, we are great because we are many races working together for our nation. Truth is a key component of freedom.

Lately, I’ve been referred to as a bigot, racist, etc. more times than usual, but even so, I had to put this in another post in hopes that more people would see that ignoring race, ethnicity, religion is not sensitive, it is dangerous.

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2 Comments.

  1. Wally-

    I tried to post this a couple of days ago, but it apparently didn’t go through. Since then I see that Julie Shirley has responded to your question on her blog. I’ll repost this as well in case you’re interested in how the reporters feel.

    Thank you for raising this issue, as it motivated me to clarify our policy with the rest of the reporters and editors and ensure that we were balancing the need to find suspects with the short-comings inherent in victim and police descriptions.

    In general, our policy is to only include race when it is part of a broad and useful description that would allow someone to identify a suspect if they saw them in a public place. For example, “police are searching for a tall Asian man” probably will not lead to any arrests; while “police are searching for a 6’3” Asian man, approximately 200 pounds, with a shaved head and goatee, wearing a black sweater and blue jeans” might.

    While I was not involved in the assault story you are referencing, I can speak about last week’s rape warning story. The description we were given (Hispanic or Native American) was far too vague to be helpful and likely wouldn’t do anything more than cause scared college girls to call the police the minute they saw an older non-white man in their neighborhood.

    Many major papers have ethics guidelines that address this issue, including the Dallas Morning News: “Racial identi-fications are used only when necessary to the story. Racial identification of suspects is used when the description provides enough information to exclude all but a narrow group of people using specific identifiers (such as but not limited to age, weight, height, clothing, hats, scars, hair color, getaway cars, etc.)” (http://www.asne.org/ideas/codes/dallasmorningnews.htm)

    The Roanoke Times: “We do not mention a person’s race in describing criminal suspects or fugitives unless the rest of the description is detailed enough to be meaningful. Sketchy descriptions are often meaningless and may apply to large numbers of innocent people.” (http://www.asne.org/ideas/codes/roanoketimes.htm)

    And The Daily Press/Newport News out of Virginia: “Descriptions should not be used when they are so lacking in detail that large segments of the population could meet them. Saying that a robbery was committed by a tall black male with a handgun doesn’t cut it…..Be especially careful when a suspect is described as Hispanic. There are white Hispanics and black Hispanics. How informed is that description, and how relevant? On what is based? Language? Complexion? Could the suspect be of Mediterranean origin instead of Hispanic?” (http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?ID=392)

    Our managing editor put it this way: “One easy test I can think of about whether to include race is the lineup: If you were looking at six people in a police lineup, given the description you have, could you pick the right one out? Assume that at least two or more of the folks in the lineup are of similar race and size. If you can’t, leave race out of it.”

    Thanks for the post, as it gave me the opportunity to make sure the reporting staff was on the same page about the issue. And I appreciate that we have local bloggers that are willing to call us out when they perceive something to be amiss. This is a debate that has raged within journalism circles for years and will likely continue to be debated for years to come.

    Caleb Heeringa
    Public Safety Reporter, The Bellingham Herald

  2. I’m glad you guys are thinking, but I guess I am still going to call you guys on it. Your policy and your line up analogy are only right after the person is caught. Prior to their apprehension there is more to their description than matters in the lineup and the complete package is what can help get them caught and put in a line up. I agree that race alone is not much to go on and will unfairly target and probably upset the community. But both cases cited had a lot more to go on as far as finding leads to the correct people. I used to drive a silver blazer of similar vintage; my family would have fit the Heralds description of some people in a silver/blue blazer. How many silver blazers are there with people in them vs. how many silver blazers with several Hispanic youth? The words Hispanic, youth, & several really cut down the number of leads the police need to follow and also the effectiveness of the public in assisting police. Yes, the police will need more to go on than “Hispanic” but as part of the description package it sure seems it would help. I would use the rule that if the police are reporting it then it must be useful to them in catching suspects so therefore it might be useful to us in helping them catch the suspects.