Arrested students shouldn’t have their names put in print


(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

By Will Katcher, Collegian Staff

It’s been just over a week since the New England Patriots fell to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Following the tough loss, thousands of students gathered in the Southwest residential area to “peacefully assemble.”

Those who saw the postgame festivities in Southwest firsthand, watched via social media or followed news coverage from the Massachusetts Daily Collegian to the Boston Globe, would have seen something very different from any form of a peaceful gathering.

If you were there, you would have seen roughly 2,000 students and a couple dozen University of Massachusetts police officers in riot gear. You would’ve heard students saying “f*** the Eagles” and police giving orders to disperse. You would have watched snowballs being thrown at police, firecrackers being set off and PepperBall chemicals being used to break up the crowd. You also would have seen 12 students leave in ambulances and seven leave in handcuffs.

Many students, aided by liquid confidence, made foolish decisions. From throwing objects at officers, to taunting them, to failing to leave when ordered to; plenty of students did things they’d later regret. It’s unfortunate, but mob mentality acts in strange ways and every college kid makes a bad decision at one point or another. Some just get caught in the act.

But regardless of whether you believe postgame gatherings are a good way to burn off built up energy or a dangerous situation that paints the school in a bad light, I hope we can agree that everybody deserves a second chance, especially for minor crimes like disorderly conduct and failing to disperse.

We need to ask ourselves whether it is ethical to make the names of arrested students public in newspapers and online. Does the story suffer if you simply say, “a UMass junior was arraigned on charges of rioting and disorderly conduct,” as opposed to publicizing their name in that sentence?

It’s easy to look at the situation as an outside observer and believe that anyone forfeits their right to privacy when they get arrested. But put yourself in the position of someone who’s been caught up in a moment and dropped the ball. They’re left wondering what their friends, peers, extended family and future employers will think when seeing their name in print.

I’m not talking about restricting crucial First Amendment rights, and this isn’t an argument that newspapers shouldn’t be allowed to print those names. There are ethical considerations to be made when deciding if it’s appropriate to print information about a young person in a difficult situation and that newspapers should consider whether it’s necessary to the story to publish that. News outlets have the right to print what they want, within reason, but this is more a matter of whether it’s ethical to do so.

Law protects the identity of those tried as minors, but anyone over 18, or tried as an adult, such as the arrested UMass students, can have their names made public. While this isn’t an assertion to change that law; it is a call to consider whether there’s a major difference between the maturity and ability to make poor decisions between a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old.

As reporters, we should instinctually ask a few questions when someone ends up in a little trouble. Are they young enough that they could be judged on what they did for a long time to come? Is the crime strong enough to warrant major news coverage? Does including the person’s name in reports strengthen the story as a whole, or is it simply an unnecessary added detail?

These are important variables that should be taken into consideration for every crime story. Serious crime should always be reported in full detail, but minor offenses, especially those by young people, should be evaluated on these standards. For charges like failure to disperse or disorderly conduct, the story may be hurting more than helping. These students have not yet been proven guilty, and even if they are, young people deserve to have their names preserved. The names aren’t crucial to the story, and restraint should be exercised when reporting on them.

Will Katcher is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]