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Columbia Ramada robbed; suspect flees

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 | 12:31 p.m. CDT; updated 3:52 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 12, 2009

* This story has been edited to change the description of the suspect, in accordance with Missourian Stylebook rules. See below for a full explanation.

COLUMBIA — A young man put his hand in his pocket early Tuesday morning, said he had a gun, and took an undisclosed amount of money from the Ramada Inn near Interstate 70 and U.S. 63, officials said in a news release from the Columbia Police Department.

The suspect entered through a side door at around 5:20 a.m. and, after announcing he was armed, demanded money from the 34-year-old female night clerk.

Described in the release as a *6-foot-tall teen in a light blue, striped polo shirt, dark jeans and a light blue baseball cap, the suspect took off on foot with the money, and had not yet been apprehended as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.

 


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Comments

Ray Shapiro May 12, 2009 | 1:47 p.m.

("Described in the release as a 6-foot-tall, light-skinned black teen...")
Amazing. You're now answering the question, "How black was he?"
Jolly good show and thank you!

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock May 12, 2009 | 3:18 p.m.

Ray,

Actually, the original version of this story violates our policy on the identification of race in crime stories. Below is the text of that policy:

OUR POLICY ON DESCRIBING AT-LARGE SUSPECTS IN CRIMES
We will publish descriptions of criminal suspects as we get them from the law enforcement agency, including the reported race of the suspect. We will try our best in EVERY case to get more detailed descriptions by questioning the police and by independently reporting. We will make sure to include the race of all suspects described as white or Caucasian, just as we do the race of those described as black, Asian or Hispanic. BEFORE we publish the race of a suspect, we will make sure the description includes at least THREE other identifying characteristics, such as weight, height, age, hair color and length, scars and tattoos.

Clearly we're in violation of this policy with this story, and it's something I will be addressing in the newsroom.

Ray, you noted on a different thread that the Missourian doesn't report on race the same way other media outlets in town do. You're right -- I've noticed that too. While I can't speak for the other media outlets in town, I can say why we have adopted this policy.

We take this approach because we believe it's fair. We don't want to foster stereotypes, but we do want to let the public know the general description of the suspect.

As noted in the correction above, I've edited this story to reflect our commitment to this policy.

Jake Sherlock
Opinion editor
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 12, 2009 | 3:53 p.m.

@Jake Sherlock:
Thank you for your clarification on discrepancies. I did not know that you had an "official" policy to follow.
While I do not agree with your policy, as facts do not foster stereotypes, I understand your concern.
I am glad I was able to help stir up a closer examination of why omissions of reported fact occur.
Best regards,
ray shapiro

(Report Comment)
John Schloot May 12, 2009 | 4:39 p.m.

So, if a caucasian robs a hotel and has a dark tan or a terrible sunburn, will that be reported? Your policy sounds like it is overblown with political correctness. Facts are facts...just report them please

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 12, 2009 | 5:34 p.m.

@Jake Sherlock:
Yea, what he said.

(Report Comment)
Matt Y May 12, 2009 | 6:01 p.m.

The problem really is the question of "How do you describe a black person?" or "How do you describe an Asian person?"

The fact is, reporting "race" just isn't very descriptive. There are no characteristics that all "black" people share, thus, saying someone is "black" doesn't tell you very much. Some have dark skin, some have light. Some have curly hair, some have straight. Some have big noses, some have small. Any description of "black" people you can come up with tends to fall apart very easily since you can always find exceptions. What if Tiger Woods robbed the Ramada inn? Do we need to break his race down into percentages for the news report? Can you imagine that story?

"A one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Thai, one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch man robbed a Columbia hotel today..."

That's ridiculous. Now, I completely agree that using race in everyday language is fine. Being precise isn't necessary in those situations. I have no qualms about saying "the mexican guy at the bank is really nice" or something of that sort. But when you're looking for a suspect in a criminal investigation, then it is of the utmost importance that you use specifics. One of those specifics, for sure, is skin color. But important is not that someone is "black" or not, but rather how dark or light the skin was. What kind of haircut did he have? Did he have large ears? These are the kind of things that are useful, and the reason why reporting someone's race is troublesome with crime issues.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr May 12, 2009 | 6:45 p.m.

It is simple you describe that person as they are either they are white,black,oriental or Spanish in nature or w/e race they were described as by the victim to the police.

Either report all the news with all details included or go wrap up your happy meal and go home IMHO.

ray shapiro is correct this wussy footing around the obvious is just a crock of @#$%^. Elementary school journalists report better than some of these so called higher educated kids in the jschool. So much for the cost of higher education huh?

I was in an interview today and the young journalist asked me alot of questions about not only this site but it's sister publications too.

The above opinions were pretty much the major gist of my answers to that student journalist and we were in agreement.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 12, 2009 | 7:00 p.m.

Matt Y:
I agree with you. It is important that the Missourian knowingly eliminates 95% of Columbia's population from the suspect list, because race is not an accurate describer anymore.
I also propose that the Missourian refrain from mentioning if a perp is male or female considering that there's no conclusive evidence until we view what's below their waist.
Any other bright ideas would be greatly welcomed.

(Report Comment)
Matt Y May 12, 2009 | 7:29 p.m.

Your propensity for allowing what you read to pass through your eyeballs and out the back of your head without hitting any of the substance you might call your brain is incredible.

I very clearly stated that the details are important. The perpetrator's skin color is vital. But it needs to be more accurate to be useful. My entire point was that "black" doesn't mean anything because it means everything. It needs to be qualified with details (dark, light, medium tone, tattoos or identifying marks, etc). Police sketch artists don't accept "black" as an acceptable description of a criminal. They ask for the actual important stuff.

Your gender example isn't even remotely accurate since there are generally accepted characteristics that victims are able to use to identify whether a criminal is male or female. These characteristics are accurate for the majority of individuals, which makes naming something as male or female valuable. I can point to a picture of ANY man, and tell you exactly what tells me he is a man. Broad shoulders, body hair, jawline, muscle tone, adam's apple, etc. These secondary sex characteristics are well-established and universally agreed upon, backed by actual science. You simply cannot say to me that the same applies to someone's race, and if you do, you're lying or mistaken.

The problem is with the language - not with identifying someone based upon their color. I personally think the motivation behind the Missourian's policy is based around trying not to offend anyone as opposed to being accurate with what they're reporting. I'm just saying that its pointless because it doesn't help anyone.

(Report Comment)
Matt Y May 12, 2009 | 8:08 p.m.

To be honest, my personal preference would be to retain reporting the best guess at the subject's race. But for god's sake, reporters, give us something else to go on.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr May 12, 2009 | 8:20 p.m.

Either report all the news with all details included or go wrap up your happy meal and go home IMHO.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 12, 2009 | 8:49 p.m.

Yea, what he said.

(Report Comment)
Will Barret May 13, 2009 | 8:47 a.m.

well i just tuned in after the comments on the trib board to see if this is really the state of the missourian...guess i stick to not reading the missourian....

(Report Comment)

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