Media Bias – Sometimes race does matter

Police are reporting that there was a strong-arm robbery near campus at about 0200hrs this morning. I could go into how the University requires its students and faculty to be disarmed on campus (which means those who live on campus are effectively disarmed at all times), but that’s really only tangentially related to this incident, and may not be relevant at all.

What I want to get into today is the media bias I noticed in the reporting of this incident. It involves race, and so will be a controversial topic with some no matter what I say. I ask only that you keep an open mind, and stop and think.

In most cases, a person’s race is irrelevant. A person is a person, and the color of their skin has nothing to do with their intelligence, morals and ethics, or their likability as a person. There are, however, some cases where it is relevant. For example, people of certain racial descent are more prone to certain medical conditions, so race can be relevant when performing a medical evaluation.

Now, back to the crime report and its related warning. Compare and contrast the following two descriptions.

First, from the Virginia Tech website, which originated the warning:

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 18, 2011 – On Tuesday, Jan. 18 at approximately 2 a.m., a strong armed robbery occurred off campus behind the Chipotle restaurant on College Ave. extension.

A pale skinned white male subject, approximately five foot ten inches to five foot 11 inches tall tall and approximately 185 pounds, black or dark hair approximately one inch long, wearing a black hooded sweat shirt, black pants and black boots approached a female from behind taking her purse and running away on foot in the direction of Progress St. and Turner St. No weapon was reported to be used in this incident. No further information available at this time.

Now, from the local paper, The Roanoke Times:

Blacksburg Police are investigating a strong-armed robbery that happened behind Chipotle early this morning.

The robbery occurred at 2 a.m., police said. A 5-foot-11, 185 pound man with short dark hair approached a woman from behind and ran off with her purse toward Progress and Turner streets, police said. He was wearing a black hooded sweat shirt, black pants and black boots. No weapon was reported to have been used.

Which one is a more complete description? Which one is more likely to lead to the robber being found?

When reporting a criminal on the loose, race is an important part of the description. Political “Correctness” should not interfere with providing legitimate public safety information.

Anyone with information on this robbery should call the Blacksburg Police Department at 540-961-1150.


[Source: Virginia Tech website news page, retrieved 1/18/11]
[Source: Roanoke Times article, retrieved 1/18/11]

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