Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
First, the Los Angeles Times declared that “looting” has racist connotations and prohibited reporters from using it.
Now, the Sacramento Bee, which had already “banned” the word looting from its pages, has decided that mug shots are also racist. So, with limited exceptions, the newspaper won’t use them anymore. Maybe next, both of these publications are going to decide that “crime” is a racist word and shouldn’t be used either.
Is that really so far fetched given what has already gone down so far?
According to an article announcing the new policy the Bee contends that publishing booking “photographs and videos disproportionately harms people of color and those with mental illness, while also perpetuating stereotypes about who commits crime in our community.”
“The Bee has taken several recent steps to work against long-standing stereotypes. We have largely banned the use of the word ‘looting’ – a term rooted in racism – and have sought to elevate the voices of emerging writers from communities we have long underserved through our Community Voices project,” said editor Lauren Gustus. “And building trust takes time. Our intention with this policy change is to take another step forward.”
Exceptions to the policy would include “photos of public figures; photos of suspected serial killers; cases in which there is an immediate and widespread threat to public safety; and those suspected of hate crimes.”
The Bee said the impetus for the new policy was a story earlier this month with surveillance photos of people breaking into stores that offended unnamed persons. So they simply deleted the entire article.
“The story included surveillance photographs of people suspected of vandalizing stores in downtown Sacramento following a night of protests against police brutality.
“Members of the community asked that the story – and the photographs – be removed from our website the next day and we did so. We apologize for the harm that publishing those photos may have caused.”
The Bee article announcing the new policy noted that at least two other newspapers and one police chief have taken a similar approach to mug shots. In February the Houston Chronicle announced it would no longer publish mug shots. In addition to not publishing mug shots the New Haven Independent in Connecticut does not even publish the names of people arrested for crimes unless they are public figures.
And to “reduce bias,” the San Francisco Police Department earlier this month announced that it would no longer publish mug shots “except in circumstances where their release is necessary to warn the public of imminent danger or to enlist the public’s assistance in locating individuals, including at-risk persons.”
Newspapers are supposed to give as much relevant information to readers as possible. It is hard to think of anything more relevant than mug shots when the story is about somebody being arrested for a crime, just the way articles routinely publish photos of their subjects.
But now the Sacramento Bee is withholding pertinent information with the underlying assumptions that its readers are racists who would associate persons of color with criminality just because they saw one individual person got busted for an alleged criminal act.
Editor Lauren Gustus was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.