CNN at one point identified a suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing as “dark-skinned.” We were also told the suspect was a Saudi national. It was announced that a suspect was in custody days before that turned out to actually be the case.
It’s understandable that when an act of terrorism happens, news outlets all want to be the first to report breaking news, especially when that news involves identifying who is responsible or announcing that police have arrested a suspect. However, the consequences of reporting inaccurate information can be dramatic. Perhaps the best example of that is Richard Jewell, the security guard first hailed as a hero for spotting the bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and alerting police, then falsely accused of planting that bomb. His privacy was invaded, every detail of his life became public information and fuel for all sorts of speculation, and bombing victims filed civil lawsuits against him.
There’s another rush to judgment that is even more dangerous, though. At least one of the suspects in the Boston bombing has been identified as Muslim, but even before that, members of the Muslim community feared for their safety. Sadly, their fear was understandable, since after 9/11 many innocent Muslims were unfairly judged as potential terrorists, and some were even beaten or killed by people blindly venting their rage and desire for revenge on people who had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorist attack and were horrified by it.
Muslim leaders were quick to condemn this bombing, of course, just as Christian leaders are quick to condemn the bombing of abortion clinics by some who call themselves Christians, or the hateful slogans carried by members of Westboro Baptist Church as they picket funerals and add to the suffering of grieving families.
We need to see people as individuals, get to know them, and form opinions about their character based on their own words and actions, not the religious or ethnic or other groups to which they belong. We also need to have the courage to challenge blanket statements made by friends, family, or co-workers about Muslims, or any other group of people, and learn to not just accept but truly appreciate the wonderful diversity of appearances, beliefs, and practices that exists not only between but also within all of the different groups.