A controversy began brewing Friday night when Mount Vernon police described the suspect in the Cascade Mall shooting as a Hispanic male in his late teens to mid-20s with a close-shaved haircut.
By Saturday night, when police arrested Turkish immigrant Arcan Cetin in connection with the crime, it had reached a full boil on Twitter.
Some observers were angry that police had wrongly put out the word to look for someone who was Hispanic and that many media outlets — including The Seattle Times — repeated the description.
Laura Martínez tweeted, “BREAKING: Cable networks realize ‘brown mall shooting suspect’ is not Hispanic after all.”
Others suggested that officials and the media were trying to cover up the possibility of terrorism inspired by or sympathetic to ISIS.
The suspect is Arcan Cetin, born in Turkey. Who the hell tried to spin the whole Hispanic narrative? #CascadeMallshooting
— Rory W (@TheLateHarambe) September 25, 2016
UPDATE: Cascade Mall Shooter Captured — Suspect Turkish Muslim Arcan Cetin… not Hispanic as told by sick media https://t.co/dTMgRLpdL6
— Immigrants?4?Trump (@immigrant4trump) September 25, 2016
Thanks @seattletimes 20-yr-old man suspected of killing Not Hispanic #CascadeMallShooting arrested Oak Harbor Burlington #Skagit @SkagitDEM https://t.co/HWdF2TZEIG
— El Siete Dias (@dias_siete) September 25, 2016
Some questioned how describing a suspect as “Hispanic” could be meaningful, when it’s a linguistic, rather than racial, distinction.
More than 15 percent of the population of Skagit County describes itself as Latino or Hispanic.
Most major news outlets, including The Seattle Times, mention race or ethnicity in relation to crimes only if the crime is considered racially motivated or if an armed, dangerous suspect is on the loose.
When journalists asked at a Saturday press conference why authorities believed the gunman might be Hispanic, Mount Vernon Police Lt. Chris Cammock said the description was based on the surveillance photos and the man’s dark hair. He acknowledged “photos aren’t exact replicas.” Asked again Saturday evening, officials said they simply were repeating what witnesses told them.
Lynn Jacobson is the deputy managing editor of The Seattle Times.
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