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Why BikePortland no longer posts mugshots

I haven’t posted mugshots here on the Front Page for many years now. I don’t recall the exact date but I remember it being an intentional decision.

More recently, major newsrooms around the country have also started to question the practice. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my reason for not posting these arrestee photos was because it just didn’t feel right. People sometimes make bad decisions, or they’re in a bad place in life and they get caught up in bad stuff. I don’t want to be a part of a culture that kicks people when they’re down or that wishes harm on someone because of a bad decision they made — especially when they’ve been caught by a system that is set up to prey on poor people, those who live on the streets, and people with dark-colored skin.

Why am I sharing this now? Because of an email I received on Saturday.

“Hi, my name is Jolene (not her real name) and I would like to request that one of your articles be taken down,” it read. “When my name is Googled,” she continued, “your article with the mugshot come up immediately. It is a painful and ugly reminder of a life I have worked hard to come back from.”

She went on:

“In 2012, I was in the lowest point in my life. I had fallen from a really good and stable life in to a life of drugs, addiction, and peril. I have since paid all restitution, as well as served time in jail, and graduated rehab. My life turned back to the one I was supposed to have! I climbed out of addiction and in to a productive life that I am proud of. I have a family now and started our own business that employs many people. I am very proud of what I have become.”

I didn’t even think twice. I was happy to edit the story. I was also glad to hear how Jolene had turned her life around. Stories like hers are important to keep in mind as we deal with crime and policing issues.

Coincidentally about one month ago I reached out to a source at the Portland Police Bureau about this exact issue. I asked if they’d consider no longer sharing mugshots in online postings of minor crimes. They were open to the idea but unwilling at the moment. They said it’s a public safety issue and the community needs to know these faces. I can see the PPB perspective, but BikePortland isn’t the police.

As with all my editorial policies, I reserve the right to change as my views evolve and to consider each situation on a case-by-case basis. If you have any feedback, I’m happy to hear it. I’ll extend the same open mind to you that I extended to Jolene.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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