Our View: When descriptions aren’t descriptive enough

DKS Editors

Students in Thursday’s Black Images class discussed the description police gave Wednesday of the suspect who turned out to be Quavaugntay Tyler, 24, a freshman criminology and justice studies student who fired a shot near Bowman Hall during a domestic dispute Wednesday.

Police described the suspect Wednesday as “a black male wearing basketball shorts carrying a silver handgun.” Some of the students thought the description was too vague and should not have been used because it could have led to racial profiling, and others thought the description was necessary to convey the danger to the public in an important developing situation. Some black students in the class said they were afraid to walk home because they thought the way they were dressed could have led to profiling.

We think the police’s release of the description was absolutely necessary given that the situation was very confusing and changing, and they needed (and received) the public’s help in catching the suspect. But what does need to be re-evaluated is whether the media should have used the description.

The Stater stands by its publication of the description while police searched for the suspect during the lockdown because we saw that police believed it was necessary to help catch the suspect despite the fact that the description was vague and could have led to profiling. Having said that, those of us who were actively covering the lockdown can say that we did not have much of a conversation about whether to use the information we had — it was an intense breaking news situation, and we thought it was necessary to report everything we knew.

Going forward, however, we know that we will need to have more conversations about the use of vague descriptions of suspects. If the situation had been, say, an armed robbery and we received that exact description the day after it happened, we know now to have a conversation about whether it was too vague and would cause more harm than good.

We think other media outlets would also do well to re-evaluate the use and content of suspects’ descriptions because we do not want to increase the risk of individuals being unfairly profiled because of race, ethnicity, gender, clothing or other factors. The police did the right thing in releasing what they knew, but the media should be more selective when descriptions could cause problems.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.