April 15, 2013

Busted by Mecklenburg County? Call it Trial by Internet

Charlotte Observer arrest screen shot

The other day, I was singing the praises of the Charlotte Observer for their editing of it’s photo section, “The Daily Edit.” Today, I have some concerns. I can’t say how many other online newspaper sites do something similar, but the digital paper offers a photo post which is a cross between and the local crime report and a rogue’s gallery. Specifically, it’s a slide show consisting of police photos and the arresting charge(s)of everyone who has been arrested recently by Mecklenburg County.

And, how many off notes does the gallery strike?

Well, we can start with the disclaimer:

“Arrest and booking photos are provided by law enforcement officials. Those appearing here have not been convicted and are presumed innocent.”

If you click through, the list is full of apparently very bad presumed innocent folk and less bad presumed innocent folk. From Mr. Smith (EXTRADITION/FUGITIVE OTH STATE) and Mr. Medina (INDECENT LIBERTIES WITH CHILD. RAPE OF A CHILD. SEXUAL SERVITUDE CHILD VICTIM) to Mr. Higgins LITTERING BEER/WINE CONTAINER. OPEN CONTAINER ALCOHOL VIOL or Mr. Newman (POSSESS MARIJUANA UP TO 1/2 OZ). The most common charge is DRIVING WHILE IMPAIRED, the overarching point of the gallery then, I suppose, being public shaming. (An indignity on a slightly lesser scale, by the way, is that the photo gallery forces you to answer product-oriented questions after every so many clicks. …I wonder what makes them think they can trust those responses.)

A few other problems here, besides exposing supposedly innocent arrestees to public castigation?

Well, the list is overwhelmingly black. The gallery exposes these citizens to not just local, but international exposure. Handing Google these names, photos and charges means they digitally might never be walked back, the internet not exactly known for presuming innocence. Finally, there are quite a few people in the gallery whose presence, and charges, are plainly ridiculous. Beyond those who have been arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia or less than an ounce of marijuana, for example, there is Mr. Levi, above, who was arrested for the egregious charge of: SOLICIT ALMS/BEG FOR MONEY.

(photos: Mecklenburg County)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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