White Robber Fools Cops With Black Disguise
Thursday, December 2, 2010
A surveillance photo shows Conrad Zdzierak, a white native of Poland, wearing a mask that makes him look black while robbing a bank in Springfield Township, Ohio. (Credit: Gary Landers/Cincinnati Enquirer)
We all know that black men have been so identified with crime in the public mind that white perpetrators have successfully cried "the black man did it" and sent authorities looking for African American suspects.
But a case from Cincinnati has them topped.
"A white man who pleaded guilty to six robberies in Ohio used a black mask so lifelike that police initially arrested a black man for one of the crimes, authorities said Tuesday," Lisa Cornwell reported for the Associated Press.
"The mother of the wrongly accused man even thought a photo of the robbery suspect she saw on television was a photo of her son, the Hamilton County prosecutor's office and the attorney for the white defendant said.
"Conrad Zdzierak, 30, pleaded guilty Monday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to one count of aggravated robbery and five counts of robbery in a plea deal with prosecutors. He faces up to 35 years in prison at his Jan. 7 sentencing."
Despite the historical and stereotypical baggage Zdzierak's racial impersonation conjures, some headline writers managed to leave that out of their handiwork.
The online edition of Britain's Daily Mail got it. "The white robber who carried out six raids disguised as a black man (and very nearly got away with it)," it headlined.
In the Cincinnati Enquirer, it was "White man who wore black mask admits to string of bank robberies."
But an Associated Press headline, picked up on the largest number of news websites, was deracinated: "Police fooled by lifelike mask in Ohio robberies."
Journal-isms asked the news organizations why they made their decisions. "I think it was necessary to matter of factly state the mask caused the police to look for a black suspect," said Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan, who taught in the Maynard Institute's Summer Institute for Journalism Education in the 1980s. "Not sure how race would enter into it beyond that. If the robber would have successfully appeared to be a woman, they would presumably have been looking for a woman. But I look forward to your post and ensuing discussions."
Ellen Hale, vice president/corporate communications at the AP, explained by e-mail:
"Each story we send out has two headlines: a short headline and a long one, because headline length needs vary with customers. Our short headline is limited to 50 characters. Because of the limited character count, it was difficult to get the concept across in the short headline, which is the one you are asking [about]. The longer headline in all three versions of the story said 'White man's lifelike black mask in Ohio robberies fooled police.' "
Below whichever headline they saw, readers found quite a tale.
Kimball Perry reported in the Enquirer:
"Zdzierak admitted to the March 5 robbery of Chaco Credit Union and to five April 9 robberies within 3½ hours — Franklin Savings, a CVS pharmacy, Fifth Third Bank branch and two Key Bank branches. He stole about $15,000 in those robberies.
"Each time, witnesses reported they were robbed by a black man and video showed what appeared to be a black man committing the robberies.
"Zdzierak, though, was using a professional-grade mask — like those used in movies — to hide his white skin and true identity.
"The mask was so convincing," Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said Monday, "that a black man was arrested for one of Zdzierak’s robberies. That man’s mother, when police arrived at her house, told police she knew why they were there because she’d just seen a television broadcast of the suspect and believed it was her son. Instead, it was Zdzierak wearing the mask, which retails for about $700.
"Zdzierak was found out when his girlfriend, staying with him in a Springdale hotel, saw reports of the robberies moments before she went into the bathroom and saw two masks and, in the sink, money that was stained with dye used by banks to try to foil robberies. She called police."
Associating black men with crime has an unfortunate media history. Just last May, Kevin Ferris wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer about "City Police Sgt. Robert Ralston, who, on April 5, for unknown reasons, shot himself in the shoulder and blamed a black man with 'cornrows.' Police doubted his story from the start, but we didn't get the truth until Ralston was promised immunity from prosecution."
University of Florida law professor Katheryn Russell-Brown, author of "The Color of Crime," documented 92 such incidents between 1987 and 2006. "But she said the overwhelming majority of the time — 67 percent, to be exact — it is the other way around: white liars blaming black men for things that did not happen," syndicated Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts wrote last year.
(In a role reversal, police in Fairfax County, Va., said this week they were searching for a black man in his 30s who they say robbed a bank dressed as an elderly Caucasian man, according to the Fairfax Times.)
As far back as 1995, studies were showing that "Minorities and people of color get on TV mostly when they have done something wrong," according to a survey of evening news programs on 50 television stations in 29 markets by the Rocky Mountain Media Watch.
Another study then from the Annenberg School of Communication, looking at Philadelphia television stations, noted that there were four times as many black victims of homicide in 1993 as white victims, yet two stations showed white people more often victims of violence than people of color.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School, told Journal-isms she did not know of any subsequent studies of how race plays out on television news crime stories.
Perhaps the story of Zdzierak and his mask will change that.
- Jesse Washington, Associated Press: Another 'Black Man Did It' Hoax Sparks Outrage (June 2)
"At a time when network news faces unprecedented competition for its audience, ABC News has tapped a new president who brings not only a traditional broadcast pedigree but also an eclectic background as an author and Internet entrepreneur. The network is betting that those skills can help it adjust to the Digital Age," Melissa Maerz and Dawn C. Chmielewski reported Friday for the Los Angeles Times.
"Newly named president Ben Sherwood will succeed David Westin, who announced in September that he would step down. He assumes the helm of ABC News at a key moment: The division has been ravaged by staff cuts, must grapple with how to respond to opinionated and provocative cable rivals, and faces scores of anonymous competitors breaking news on Twitter.
" 'What you've got, if you are Ben Sherwood, is a world in flux, a network economy that is not improving and a series of old problems that need new solutions,' said Richard C. Wald, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and former president of NBC News and a former ABC News executive.
"Sherwood said he is up to the task.
" 'My challenge is to raise the competitive metabolism even higher than it already is, to mobilize ideas and resources, to get more people to pay attention to what ABC News produces on all of its platforms and ultimately to find new ways — unknown ways, ways that have not even been imagined yet — to perform the incredibly vital public service that ABC News provides every day,' Sherwood said."
ABC News spokesman Jeffrey W. Schneider did not respond when asked whether there was anything to be said about Sherwood's achievements with diversity, commitments to it or interest in the subject.
Under Westin, ABC lagged behind CNN on cable and NBC in broadcast on diversity concerns.
"He had some opportunities to really move some African Americans into key positions as correspondents," Kathy Times, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Journal-isms when Westin announced his retirement in September. She said she would have liked to have seen more support from ABC for NABJ during the year and at its convention, and looked forward to that from his successor.
- ABC News release: Ben Sherwood, Award-Winning Journalist, Best Selling Author and Digital Media Entrepreneur Named President, ABC News
- Michael Calderone, Yahoo: Sherwood says he wanted to be part of ABC News’ future
- Eric Deggans blog, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times: Ben Sherwood, an executive who hasn't worked in TV news for years, named president of ABC News
- Gail Shister, TV Newser: Ben Sherwood: ‘An insider and outsider there, and that’s what ABC was looking for
Journalist Helen Thomas, 90, speaks at a workshop on anti-Arab bias in Dearborn, Mich., on Thursday. (Credit: Susan Tusa/Detroit Free Press)
"Wayne State University is yanking the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award, citing remarks she made during a conference Thursday," Lori Higgins reported Friday for the Detroit Free Press.
"In a brief statement emailed to reporters this afternoon, the university says 'As a public university, Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints. However, the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas …'
"On Thursday Thomas said she stands by controversial comments about Israel that led to her resignation as a White House correspondent earlier this year.
"She also sparked additional controversy with new comments: 'Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question, in my opinion,' she said. 'They put their money where their mouth is. ... We're being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.'
"WSU officials say they have been contacted by a number of people in the wake of Thomas’ comments this year.
" 'A lot of people are shocked and saddened by Helen Thomas’ statements. I’ve been shocked and saddened,' said Matthew Seeger, interim dean of the college of fine, performing and communication arts at WSU.
"But Seeger said the outside pressure did not influence Wayne State’s decision to pull the award. He said the award is given by the university’s Journalism Institute for Media Diversity, which works to promote the importance of diversity in the media. But the controversy surrounding Thomas’ comments meant the award 'is no longer helping us achieve our goals,' Seeger said."
In remarks to reporters Thursday before a talk in Dearborn for an Arab Detroit workshop on anti-Arab bias, Thomas, 90, said, "I can call a president of the United States anything in the book but I can't touch Israel, which has Jewish-only roads in the West Bank according to Niraj Warikoo, writing Thursday for the Free Press.
"No American would tolerate that — white-only roads.
"'The Zionists have to understand that's their country, too. Palestinians were there long before any European Zionists.'
In the Friday Free Press story, Don Cohen, a pro-Israel activist based in West Bloomfield, said Thomas was wrong when she said there are Jewish-only roads in the West Bank. "This is false," Cohen said. "There are Israeli-only roads on which anyone with an Israeli license plate...can use...Jews and Arabs."
Thomas' career ended in June after saying that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine." Three of Thomas' sisters told Journal-isms in June that Thomas was not calling for the destruction of Israel or the return of all Israelis to Europe or the United States, as many in the news media interpreted the remarks, but was expressing her opposition to the disputed Israeli settlements in present-day Palestine. They said she believes in a two-state solution.
In the Detroit News on Saturday, Kim Kozlowski and Oralandar Brand-Williams reported that "Thomas' sister, Barbara Isaac, said they had expected WSU might eventually make such a decision, especially with this week's controversy.
"It boils down to more punishment for being honest and forthright," said Isaac. "She wanted to tell the truth. She's trying to get justice for the Palestinian people." [Dec. 4]
- Oralandar Brand-Williams, Detroit News: Helen Thomas stands by remarks about Israelis
"Support for imprisoned sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott is growing as an anticipated deadline for their clemency petition nears. The sisters, who are in the 17th year of their double life sentences for armed robbery, have a petition for clemency or pardon pending before Gov. Haley Barbour," Ward Schaefer reported Tuesday for the Jackson (Miss.) Free Press.
"Attorney and Jackson Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, who previously handled the sisters' appeals, filed a petition for clemency or pardon with Barbour Sept. 14. Since then, the NAACP, as well as other national civil-rights organizations — including a coalition of Mississippi Freedom Riders — have joined the call for their release.
"On Nov. 24, Lumumba delivered to Barbour's office a stack of papers bearing the names of 24,000 people who signed an online petition for their release issued by the NAACP. He also carried another 1,500 letters of support that he received personally at his law office."
"Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and associate editor at The Washington Post, has been elected to the Pulitzer Prize Board, Columbia University announced today," the Pulitzer board announced on Thursday.
"A 30-year veteran of the Post, Robinson launched his twice-weekly column on the paper’s op-ed page in February 2005, and within a year it was syndicated to more than 130 newspapers — making it the fastest-growing column in the history of the Washington Post Writers Group.
"In 2009, he won The Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns about the 2008 presidential campaign and the election of President Barack Obama."
The Pulitzer board is the final arbiter of the winners of the Pulitzer Prizes, sometimes overruling the recommendation of the Pulitzer juries.
Others of color who have served are, with their titles at the time:
Greg Moore, editor of the Denver Post, a current member; Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University; Jay T. Harris, director of the Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy at the Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California; John L. Dotson Jr., president and publisher, Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal; Danielle Allen, professor in the University of Chicago's departments of the classics and political science; the late Marilyn Yarbrough, associate provost and professor of law, University of North Carolina; novelist Junot Diaz; William Raspberry, Washington Post columnist; Roger Wilkins, senior fellow, the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, and former editorial writer at the New York Times and Washington Post; and the late Robert C. Maynard, editor and publisher, the Tribune, Oakland, Calif.
With his election to the board in May, Diaz is believed to have become the first Latino on the board.
"Michael J. Copps, one of the five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission, said Thursday that a 'public value test' should replace the current licensing system for television and radio stations," Brian Stelter reported for the New York Times.
"The test, he said, 'would get us back to the original licensing bargain between broadcasters and the people: in return for free use of airwaves that belong exclusively to the people, licensees agree to serve the public interest as good stewards of a precious national resource.'
"Mr. Copps, a Democratic commissioner who has long wanted to reform the license system, made the proposal in an address at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on Thursday. It is his latest effort to draw attention to the public interest requirements of local stations at a time when he believes American journalism is in 'grave peril.'
"In his prepared remarks, he criticized the casual nature of the current license renewals for stations and said his intent with the public value test was to foster 'a renewed commitment to serious news and journalism.' ”
The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, which awards the most coveted fellowships in journalism, "supports lifting the quality of journalism through greater diversity in news coverage and staffing and engaging the public at all levels. This includes developing diversity awareness among all journalists," the foundation says in a new diversity statement.
Cecilia Alvear, executive committee member, independent multimedia producer and former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, explained to Journal-isms via e-mail:
"The Nieman Foundation is a leader in promoting excellence in journalism and we at the Diversity Work Group felt that it was important to spell out their commitment to Diversity as a core value at this time when the nation is becoming more diverse and yet so many journalists of color have left the profession. It is also a way of supporting the efforts of Callie Crossley, Nieman Seminar Program Manager, who has done an excellent job of recruiting journalists of color for the fellowship. Coincidentally now that Harvard is looking for a new Curator for the Nieman program it is our hope that this statement will inspire the Provost, the Search Committee and the Head hunter to select a new leader for the Nieman Foundation that reflects this value."
Alvear, who chairs the Diversity Work Group, which drafted the statement, said the Nieman Advisory Board unanimously approved the declaration on Nov. 18.
Wafaa Bilal had a thumb-sized camera mounted on a titanium plate inserted inside his cranium. New York University authorities are requiring a cover over the lens while Bilal is teaching on campus. (Video)
"Some students joke that their teachers have eyes in the backs of their heads," Laura Dolan reported Thursday for CNN .
"A New York University professor is now closer to that reality, having had a camera surgically implanted into the back of his cranium.
"Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi born photography professor at the university's Tisch School of the Arts, had the procedure done at a piercing studio last month for an art project commissioned by a museum in Doha, Qatar, he said.
" 'This will expose the unspoken conditions we face,' Bilal said Thursday. 'A project like this is meant to establish a dialogue about surveillance.'
"The project is called 'The 3rd I,' and will make use of the posterior camera by taking a snap-shot [photograph] each minute of Bilal's everyday activities for one year, he said.
"The images will then be transmitted to Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, he said, featuring an exhibit entitled 'Told/Untold/Retold' in time for the museum's December 30 opening, according to a museum statement."
- "A state appeals court today reversed a lower-court decision to dismiss a libel suit against The Anniston Star by Anniston City Councilman Ben Little," Ben Cunningham wrote Friday for the Alabama newspaper. "The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals was divided 3-2 in its opinion, and while it ruled for Little on the libel claim, it allowed to stand the lower court’s decision to dismiss a claim of outrage, based on allegations the newspaper was waging a 'vituperous campaign' against the councilman that could lead to racially motivated violence against him."
- "The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) has partnered with the Greater than AIDS movement and the Black AIDS Institute to reengage Black Americans in fighting the AIDS epidemic by making an historic commitment to cover AIDS in Black America in the nation's Black press," the Black AIDS Institute announced on Tuesday. ". . . The groundbreaking project will see weekly coverage of AIDS in the nation's Black newspapers; public forums on AIDS in Black America in each of the NNPA's five regions; and public service announcements."
- "Photojournalist Go Takayama, 28, a visual journalist from Japan who is a graduate of Ohio University's School of Visual Communication and who has interned at several American newspapers, has been jailed in Cambodia after taking pictures for a story he was working while participating in the Angkor Photo Workshops," Donald R. Winslow wrote Friday for News Photographer magazine. "After photographing a married couple inside a home on the evening of November 23, 2010, Takayama was stopped on the street by undercover police and detained until additional police arrived, Angkor Photo Workshop organizer Jessica Lim told News Photographer magazine today."
- In New York, "Maurice DuBois, one of the most-popular local anchors, is headed back into the evening news arena at WCBS/Ch. 2, where, next month, he'll replace Chris Wragge," Richard Huff reported Wednesday for the New York Daily News. "Wragge, of course, is leaving the station to become a full-time anchor on CBS' 'The Early Show.' DuBois, who has co-anchored the morning news at Ch. 2 since 2006, will slide into Wragge's seat alongside Kristine Johnson on Jan. 3 on the station's 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts."
- David Novarro, cut loose this summer after a decade at Fox-owned WFLD-Ch. 32 and briefly appeared headed to its sister station in New York, instead wound up returning to ABC New York flagship WABC," Phil Rosenthal reported Wednesday for the Chicago Tribune. " 'My work vacation is over,' Novarro said Tuesday, announcing his move to WABC on his Facebook page."
- "For decades, that shared history has sometimes been celebrated, but sometimes the opposite is true," host Michel Martin said on NPR's "Tell Me More," discussing African Americans and Native Americans on Tuesday, the final day of Native American History Month. She interviewed William Loren Katz, author of the book "Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage," and Shonda Buchanan, a descendant of North Carolina and Mississippi Choctaw Indians who is a professor of English at Hampton University. She said she was spurned at a powwow because of her black heritage.
- In Greensboro, N.C., "A broadcasting legend has stepped down from her anchor chair. Sandra Hughes anchored her final show at WFMY News 2 on Wednesday," the station reported. "Sandra was joined during the newscast by another familiar face, Lee Kinard. The two were staples on the anchor desk at WFMY for nearly two decades. Sandra reflected on her journey from starting as a reporter to where she is today." Hughes is retiring after 38 years in broadcasting.
- HBO and Blown Deadline Productions, David Simon's production company, have seeded a scholarship fund at the University of Maryland in memory of David Mills, the former journalist and Simon colleague on "The Wire," "Homicide" and other shows who died in March at age 48. "Beginning with the coming academic year, at least one scholarship will be awarded to an undergraduate who has labored for two semesters at the Diamondback," the student paper where Simon and Mills worked, "and who pledges to continue to serve as a reporter or editor at the daily while receiving the scholarship, paid in increments each semester. And as David was a key player in the de facto desegregation of the Diamondback, candidates who show a particular commitment to creating and nurturing diversity at the paper will be looked upon with special favor by the application committee, as will applicants whose writing raises a bit of hell in that way of which David would be proud." Simon is seeking further contributions via the University of Maryland College Park Foundation.
- Alison Bethel McKenzie, acting director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute, has been named to the Black Women in Europe™: Power List. The former Washington bureau chief of the Detroit Free Press is the first black person and believed to be the first woman to head a global press freedom organization.
- After a seven-month investigation, authorities in Santa Barbara, Calif., arrested Sean Sidney, 24, on Tuesday for allegedly possessing and distributing child pornography and possessing the drugs ecstasy and LSD, the Daily Sound in Santa Barbara reported on Friday. Michael Ganandos, general manager of KEYJ-TV, told Journal-isms that Sidney was suspended as master control operator/newscast director at the station but that KEYJ had not reported the arrest, as had others in the market, because managers wanted to discuss the case.
- Columbia Journalism Review Wednesday published e-mails between journalists and New York Gov. David Paterson’s two most senior press aides during the period this year that the New York Times was working on an investigation that would lead to Paterson’s decision to drop his gubernatorial campaign, and when Albany was seized by rumors about what the impending bombshell would be. The e-mails were released after a Freedom of Information request filed in March.
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "says he expects New Jersey Network will remain on the air after Jan. 1, when the current state subsidy for the network ends," Peggy McGlone of the Star-Ledger in Newark reported Friday. "In an exclusive interview with The Star-Ledger, Christie said he is willing to reverse his original plan and extend the deadline in order to give potential suitors and the state the opportunity to work out a deal."
- "On Fox News today, Juan Williams, formerly of NPR, advanced an argument about the detrimental effects that extended jobless benefits can have on people. You see, Williams said, these unemployment checks can kill people's work ethic, hurt their values, even harm their sense of style," Eric Lach wrote Thursday for Talking Points Memo.
Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
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