Home > Ethics > Why race matters before, but not after, arrests

Why race matters before, but not after, arrests

March 11, 2011

The Northern Reporter has an interesting post on race in police stories. He noted that his paper had run a story on an arrest of a man and had identified the man as a First Nations person. You’re not supposed to do this after the person is arrested.

NR was briefed by his boss on the issue and it was dropped.

It did get me wondering, though, exactly what the purpose of the rule was. How much different can it be to call someone First Nations, or white, or whatever, than it is to call them a man or woman in a report? And what about when police are looking for someone? It seems odd we can say Joe Shmoe, Caucasian, wanted by police, but once nabbed, that little detail has to be dropped.

On the other hand, I have so little experience with real race issues that I can respect the fact that I’m talking out of my privileged ass and wouldn’t know what it’s like to be profiled based on the colour of my skin.

So, unless I hear a compelling argument otherwise, I’ll trust the CP on this one. When reporting on crime, may as well just stick to the crime and leave race out of it.


There is, it turns out, a reason for the seemingly contradictory rule and I think it’s worth sharing with this blog’s readers (again, check out the BRR’s BFF, NR.)

As I commented on his blog:

The detail is useful for helping the public help the police identify a suspect but once they’re arrested, that rationale is lost. You might as well write “a 160-pound man was arrested” or “a man wearing a black sweater” was arrested or so on.

If you don’t use those descriptors to describe people who are arrested, it doesn’t make sense to use race.

Gender is needed if only so you can use the correct pronoun. Age is also usually referred to and is probably less justifiable, but can sometimes provide colour. And since everybody ages at the same rate, it’s hard for it to be discriminatory.

The main reason race is sensitive is because when people see minorities (any minorities) constantly referred to in police reports, they tend to jump to racist conclusions like “All natives are criminals” when it is more accurate to say “impoverished people with few job prospects or training are more likely to be criminals and, at this particular point in Canadian history, First Nations men are more likely to be impoverished and have few job prospects than white men.”

Most also would probably overlook how many crimes are committed by our own race and focus on “the other.”


This blog had more visitors in February than any previous months. It’s still a one-person show, though, so any help would be great. It’s easy, quick and the pay is shite. E-mail bclocalreporter (at) gmail (dot) com.

Have I made an error? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leave a comment and I’ll shamefully update the post.

We’re making inroads into our census of B.C. community newspapers, but there are still a lot of blanks in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. How many journalists work at your paper? How often do you come out? Who’s your publisher? Participation is free! The benefits unlimited! The exclamation points boundless!

Categories: Ethics Tags: , ,
  1. March 11, 2011 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for posting this, it’s definitely a good discussion to have, especially since I have seen the mistake pop up a couple of times since I made my boo-boo. Of course I’m more sensitive to the matter now since my, ahem, mistake.

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: