Many readers ask why The Seattle Times doesn’t routinely report the race of criminal suspects. They may see it in other media and wonder whether The Times is covering something up, assume we’re being “politically correct” (whatever that means) or accuse us of censorship.
They are mistaken.
The Seattle Times’ newsroom policy is to describe a suspect when police are seeking a dangerous person AND when there is a complete description or distinctive features that would set the suspect apart from the general population. Simply stating a race is not enough of a description.
A complete description could include sex, race, hair color, complexion, approximate height, weight and age, clothing, car. Distinctive features could include tattoos, scars, behavior, an unusual hair style.
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In the case of the Kent shootings, at no time did police offer a description of the gunman or passenger. A witness at the scene who spoke to the gunman told The Times he wasn’t even sure what the man looked like.
We will include race or ethnicity when it becomes a key factor in a story.
We don’t let other media outlets determine what we publish. We don’t want to publish misleading information. And we don’t want to fall for stereotypes.
In order to maintain this standard, we often close comment threads when readers jump to conclusions about race or ethnicity. With the Kent story, we closed the thread Wednesday soon after commenters made remarks like these:
“The silence from the Times means that they are black, but the Times persists in appearing like fools for failing to make ANY identification. … Why does the Times have this policy about identifying race? Does the Times want to look like a fool … is there some sort of new journalism code that says never identify a criminal as being Black?”
“Since the media hasn’t mentioned race, it must be safe to assume the murderer must be black. Why? Why would I come to such a conclusion?? Maybe instead of profiling it is just experience that helps me come to this statement.”
“I really enjoy PC garbage and loony left reporting that censors the news because it’s too disparaging to minorities.”
“Killers were black? I am willing to bet $100 they were.”
“Not speculation. Some media report the facts and some media, like the Times, cover it up.”
On Thursday, the suspected gunman claimed the confrontation began when other men directed ethnic slurs toward him. The suspect, Leland Russell Jr., is Hispanic, according to the probable-cause document.