Just before 8 in the
“WANTED: Ahmad Rahami, 28-year old male. See media for pic. Call 911 if seen.”
No links. No images. No context into which one could place the message. Some people stumbling around before the coffee kicks in may have glanced and mistaken the message for an Amber Alert.
In subways chock-full of persons, it’s not hard to imagine everyone looking up from their telephones and scrutinizing each other. Maybe one of their co-passengers was Rahami. A young man with brownish skin could have thought: Maybe someone mistakes ME for Rahami.
The alert was the original of its
By twelve, the suspect had been caught. Still, there’s no indication that the cell phone system played any part in helping authorities locate him.
Others weren’t so sure and were critical of the city leader’s determination to utilize the system for this purpose. Brian Feldman, writing in New York magazine, labeled it an “extremely critical alert to burst across
Without providing any useful contextual data, it deputizes the boroughs and pushes people to treat anybody who resembles the description with suspicion. In a nation of people already
A basic rule of crime writing is you don’t describe a suspect until you have sufficient data for people to realistically distinguish that person from another of similar age, race and build. To engage citizens in a hunt for a “28-year old male with dark skin and brown facial hair is dangerous. People are being asked to find a stereotype — not a particular person.
Authorities were under pressure to do what they could to find the suspect. But the current system — used for this purpose — is intrusive and potentially harmful when employed in an ad hoc fashion.
If authorities have the right person, everyone can be thankful for their investigative work. Let’s hope the authorizations are a little