Wick Communications

Race and suspect descriptions

In Writing techniques on August 20, 2015 at 2:37 pm

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Let’s discuss a touchy subject: Should you mention the race of someone suspected of a crime? What about if that person is on the loose and cops are searching for him?

It’s something that happens every day. Police tell you they are looking for a Hispanic male who was leaving the scene of a home burglary or a drug deal or a domestic disturbance, etc. Sometimes they have more of a description. Sometimes they don’t. Do you include the race of the suspect in your story?

Christian Boone is a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and a very old friend.) He caused me to think about this anew with his Facebook post earlier this week. I completely agree with him. …

The point of any description in your story is to help readers positively identify the suspect. Boone writes: “Race is relevant if included among other distinguishing characteristics – stature, hair color, tattoos, etc. – that allow for a complete portrait. In those cases, we publish it.”

That means the AJC doesn’t publish race if that’s all its got. As Boone says, if you were a police sketch artist, what would you draw if all you had was “black guy?”

To me this is abundantly clear but I know it’s a bit murkier for many good people reading this post. Questions?

Clay

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