A few readers recently raised concerns about a police log entry that appeared in our May 17 issue, and we would like to share a bit from the (civil) discussions that ensued with those readers with the rest of our audience.
The log entry recounted what happened after an officer came upon a vehicle pulled over in a no-parking zone on the side of Ocean Avenue. What transpired was mostly unremarkable: It was determined that the driver did not have a valid license and that the car had expired registration. An officer informed the driver and his passenger that he would need to confiscate the plates and have the car towed. The men said they understood and would arrange to be picked up by their boss.
What our readers asked us about — or, truth be told, in one case demanded an apology for — was that both men had been described in the log entry as “Hispanic males.” Readers noted — not incorrectly — that the race or ethnicity of the individuals involved in incidents is generally not included in our police log entries.
While we did not think an apology was warranted, our readers had every right to demand further explanation, and we share a bit of that explanation here.
Let’s start with the “default setting” of this and most other newspapers. Whenever possible, our predisposition is going to be to share more information with you, not less. This includes the names of our sources — anonymity will only be granted in a limited set of circumstances — and, when relevant, the race of people involved in police incidents. When the police are called to a local convenience store to investigate the report of a “suspicious teen,” the community might want to know if that call is related to the “crime” of “shopping while Black.”
Since the death of George Floyd, heightened attention — some would say long overdue — has come to the issue of how police are treating people of color. In this case, from what we can tell, the two men pulled over on Ocean Avenue were treated no differently than white men would have been in the same circumstance. But keeping an eye on such issues is part of what we are here to do.
The issue of whether to allow nearly 200,000 undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses had also been a hotly debated topic on Beacon Hill in recent months. The Legislature expanded driver’s license access to immigrants without legal status by passing the Work and Family Mobility Act last summer over the veto of Gov. Charlie Baker, and voters then upheld the new law by voting “yes” on Question 4 last November by 53.6% to 46.4% margin. The law is now set to take effect July 1.
A log entry like this serves as a reminder that, for our local police, such debates are not an abstraction but rather will regularly affect their interactions with people who live and work in our town.
All that said, can we answer with an unqualified “yes” the question of whether to include these men’s ethnicity in our police log?
One of the sources to which we look for guidance regularly, the Associated Press Stylebook, offers this piece of advice (among other) about race-related coverage: “Include racial or ethnic details only when they are clearly relevant and that relevance is explicit in the story.”
We’ve explained above why — at least in our mind — race was “clearly relevant.” Was that relevance “explicit in the story” — or, in this case, the log — to the degree it should have been? Perhaps not.
It is hard to say, exactly, what we will do the next time we encounter such an incident as we assemble the police log. Each incident is different, and there may be nuances that affect our decision making.
What we can say is that we will pause a bit longer before we decide to include race or ethnicity in a log entry and — should we choose to make mention of it — do a better job of explaining its relevance.
So, thank you to those readers who called this issue to our attention. We try to do our jobs as thoughtfully and as carefully as we can.
But we always appreciate a little help.
The Current Editorial Board
The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.