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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

December 7, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Editorial: Media must be cautious of jumping to conclusions

On Nov. 7, 71 days after the stabbing of Ithaca College student Anthony Nazaire, a suspect was arrested on a charge of his homicide: 23-year-old Nagee Green.

After news surfaced of his arrest, many people felt a surge of relief that someone had finally been arrested after two months with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the case. However, the arrest is all that has happened so far. The media, including those on social media, should be cautious about passing judgment on this man’s guilt and criminality before the full judicial process has been exhausted. An arrest is not automatically equatable to guilt: While Green is now a suspect, he has not been found guilty of any crime.

Previous high-profile cases from around the world have shown the negative impacts of a trial by media. In the Amanda Knox case, for instance, the frenzy of Italian and international media immediately painted Knox as the villain, the guilty criminal. Local media in Ithaca and the upstate New York area, in addition to social media, should take caution not to latch onto Green and immediately label him a criminal in the same way, especially when the police have yet to present concrete evidence showing that Green had committed homicide.

Public officials are also complicit in this conflation of an arrest and criminal guilt. During the Ithaca Police Department’s press conference Nov. 7 announcing news of Green’s arrest, IPD’s Chief of Police John Barber said, “The community is in a safer place with this suspect taken off the street.” The media should take heed in twisting these statements to paint Green as a criminal who is responsible for the stabbing, a crime he has yet to be tried for.

Furthermore, excessively plastering Green’s mug shot in article after article only pushes forward the narrative of this man’s presumed guilt over his innocence. Spreading his face over the internet through social media and numerous stories paints him as the sole criminal in the case and does not take into account the possibility of a trial not finding him guilty — it hurts the suspect more than it helps the case itself.

With the grand jury proceeding on Nov. 10, reporters, public officials and the public must be cautious of labeling Green as a guilty man, as the justice system has not yet made any judgments on the crimes he was charged with. Though it may be tempting to believe that the case is closed with his arrest, a trial by media is a dangerous infringement on the operations of this country’s justice system.