The story was about a shooting reported earlier this week in which a Spring Valley man was shot while driving his pickup on Interstate 8 in El Cajon. A woman passenger in the pickup was not injured. The headline that Patch.com used for the article was "Latinos Shoot at Lemon Grove Woman in Pickup Truck."
The description of the suspects in the shooting provided by police was "Latino males in their 20s." Critics say that description is too broad to be useful and gives the impression that every Latino man between 20 and 29 years old is a possible suspect.
“Should people be worried that I’m walking around with my kids in the park because we’re Latinos,” said Pedro Rios with the San Diego Immigrants Rights Consortium. “It causes an over-generalization that uses stereotypes by suggesting that all Latinos are out there shooting at people."
Rios noted that Latinos can have very different physical characteristics, and other ethnic groups are often mistaken for Latinos.
“Latinos are of very different characteristics," Rios said. "We could be short and brown. We could be tall and blonde."
FOX 5 spoke with the Patch reporter who wrote the story and headline. Mirna Alfonso is a Latina herself. She said she stood by her story, claiming she used the term Latinos as a description in an effort to help authorities find witnesses and identify the culprits. Alfonso would not go on the record with further details.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists also criticized the reporter's use of the term Latino.
“It was irresponsible of the news organization to use Latinos as a description. It’s unclear, stereotypical and ties ethnicity to crime,” said Mekahlo Medina, President of NAHJ.
The Society of Professional Journalist had a similar criticism.
“This is very irresponsible. A huge chunk of California's population is Latino/Hispanic/Mexican-American, depending on how they want to be identified. The use of the term here is much too generic without any other identifying factors such as clothing or tattoos," said Sandra Gonzalez with SPJ. "We as journalists have to be more responsible when handed a press release that mentions race. Latinos come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and mindsets, yet sometimes people put them into one box…This story describes many of the male population in San Diego County, Calif."
After FOX 5 contacted Alfonso, the story’s headline was changed.