A chain of eight Michigan newspapers will stop publishing mug shots of people charged with crimes except in extraordinary cases as it seeks to stop perpetuating negative perceptions of people, especially minorities, a senior editor said Thursday.
The photos imply guilt long before trial and are indefinitely attached to news stories on the internet, no matter the outcome of a criminal case, said John Hiner, vice-president of content at MLive Media Group.
“Practices that we have followed for decades are due for a fresh look,” Hiner told readers. “Upon such review, we have determined that the reflexive use of mug shots does more to foster negative perceptions than to provide understanding to our readers.”
Mug shots are photos of people charged with crimes. They’re released by police departments, especially under public record requests, though not all. San Francisco police recently stopped releasing photos unless a person poses a threat to the public.
MLive publishes The Grand Rapids Press as well as newspapers in Ann Arbor, Saginaw, Flint, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Bay City and Jackson. It also runs MLive.com.
Hiner said a new policy was under discussion for a while. But he noted that a Black woman last week asked a reporter why mug shots of minorities were regularly published.
“We have to listen, and we have to change,” Hiner said. “That is a theme across America in this tumultuous period of social-justice awakening that has occurred since George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25.”
Floyd, who was Black, was restrained face down in the street while handcuffed and with three officers holding him down, including a white officer who had a knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.
Hiner said police photos will be used in coverage of crimes involving public figures, fugitives or as part of courtroom reporting of high-profile cases.
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