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The Strange Justice Of A Misidentified Suspect And The Media

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The Strange Justice Of A Misidentified Suspect And The Media

Mark Hughes, a misidentified suspect in the Dallas shooting on Thursday.

Mark Hughes was innocent. Yet for a while on Thursday night, he became the most notorious criminal in the United States.

Hughes brought along his rifle to a Dallas gathering protesting the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. He marched peacefully the entire time, with the legally gun strapped onto his back.

However, once the Dallas Police Department identified Hughes as a suspect in the tragic shooting that occurred later that night, a mass digital witch hunt began.

The DPD posted Hughes’ photo on Twitter, passed out copies to reporters, and described Hughes physically in a press briefing, ordering civilians not to approach him. His face appeared on dozens of national and local television networks. (The photo is still on Twitter as this article goes to press, after over 40,000 retweets.)


Justice must be served, and it must be served quickly. But if nothing else, Hughes’ case shows that in hyper-public tragedies like the Dallas shooting, the noble impulse to locate killers in impossibly large public gatherings can shine a spotlight on the wrong people.

It’s a strange kind of justice indeed when seemingly every publication and network accuses an innocent protester of slaughtering five police officers; when the desire to avenge this killing surpasses the need for accuracy.

Of course, a “person of interest” is different than a suspect is different than a criminal. And a man with a gun near a mass shooting is bound to raise questions. But in the age of instant online alerts, an accusation like the one made by Dallas police — and dutifully magnified by a cooperative media — can spread like wildfire. At that point, the court of public opinion rules.

As a handful of publications noted, the false allegations against Hughes bear an eerie parallel to the efforts to identify the Boston marathon bombers.

Reddit and Twitter users speculated in the immediate aftermath of the bombing that its perpetrator was a missing Brown University student, Sunil Tripathi, who was later found dead of unrelated causes. Over a police scanner, someone mentioned the name Mike Mulugeta (who was not a real person). Suddenly, an unclear chain of events and tweets lead journalists from BuzzFeed, Politico, and Newsweek to announce Mulugeta and Tripathi as prime suspects.

The New York Post, meanwhile, published a photo of another two men on its cover, alleging that they were the bombers. How the Post ended up publishing that photo is legally contested, but the paper said in court that Boston police had told them to identify the men.

The Daily Beast also misidentified a suspect at a San Bernardino shooting last December, publishing the photo, employer and property records of the shooter’s brother rather than the shooter himself. A similar circus ensued on social media.

Unlike Hughes, none of these suspects were unequivocally named by police, but, like Hughes, their names and faces soon emerged everywhere. The frantic search for a shooter — any shooter, it seemed — after the attacks began created misinformation on a massive scale. 

Hughes turned his gun into police almost immediately, and another suspect was identified. (Perhaps paradoxically, Hughes was helped by another mass media craze: one documenting that he was not, in fact, the shooter.) But did his photo need to be blasted over the airwaves and pasted over Internet to begin with?

Photo from Dallas Police Department Twitter



    1. Sand_Cat July 8, 2016

      Clearly, you don’t. No surprise there.

    2. The lucky one July 9, 2016

      Otto, make that your desktop background and look at it every time you feel moved to post another absurdity.

  1. Dominick Vila July 8, 2016

    The tragedies in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Minnesota are, sadly, the latest manifestation of who we are as a society, evidence of the judicial and socio-economic problems that contribute to these tragedies, and the result of refusing to apply common sense reform to end the sale of assault rifles and high capacity magazines.
    There is no excuse for what an African American man did in Dallas, and there is no excuse for what police officers, whose duty is to protect the citizenry, did in Louisiana and Minnesota.
    The root cause for these tragedies is pure, unadulterated, racism. Period. The rest, including the marginalization of ethnic and cultural minorities in the USA is a byproduct of racism. Denying African Americans and Latinos-Hispanics the same right afforded to white suspects under the law is evidence of racism. The huge discrepancy between the number of white inmates and Black inmates in prison is evidence of racism.
    Until we reflect on what is happening, and make an honest effort to remedy this situation in a way that will afford the same privileges, protections, and opportunities for ALL Americans, this situation will not only continue, it is likely to get worse.
    What happened in Dallas was horrible, but so are all the killings of black men throughout the USA almost every day. Is it reasonable to expect the people who are on the receiving end of racial discrimination to turn the other cheek? Clearly, after reading and hearing some of the comments made by so many white folks, it is clear that they are not going to turn the other cheek. After all, an armed black man killed five white officers. The time to reflect and consider what is going on, what the root cause (s) of the problem is, and do something about it is now.

    1. Otto T. Goat July 8, 2016

      The reason for the “huge discrepancy between the number of white inmates and Black inmates in prison” is that blacks commit crimes at a much higher rate than whites.

      1. Dominick Vila July 8, 2016

        Have you considered why that is? Many African Americans live below the poverty line, in ghettos. Right or wrong, they believe they are being discriminated against, and denied the same opportunities afforded to the white majority. They believe police officers are not there to protect them, but to arrest them…or kill them. They are tired of being stereotyped, accused of being welfare dependent, criminals, and irresponsible parents and citizens.
        Yes, there is black against black crime. Yes, they commit crimes and, yes, some are unwilling to take the punishment passively anymore.
        Add to that the fact that many of them have military training, and are heavily armed, and the only conclusion we can reach is that we have a major problem in our hands.
        We either demand changes, especially in the area of judicial fairness, and law enforcement practices consistent with the alleged crimes, or we are going to end up with a real mess before long.

          1. Dominick Vila July 9, 2016

            I wish the white criminals that massacred innocent school children, people attending Mass, and the one who was too dumb to know the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim, and carried out a massacre in Wisconsin, had used their high IQs for other than acting like murderous imbeciles.

          2. 2ThinkN_Do2 July 9, 2016

            How do you compare those of Jewish faith to Poles, Germans Soviets? Anyone can be a Jew, just like anyone can be a Christian or Buddhist . . . .

          3. Dominick Vila July 9, 2016

            Jewish people, regardless of nationality, were persecuted and punished, but they were not the only ones that were subjected to experimentation in the pursuit of a superior race.

          4. The lucky one July 9, 2016

            You really are a racist POS and we know where your IQ lands. I’m going to be generous and guess your is maybe 50 just the kind of dumba$$ favored by the orange haired monster.

          5. The lucky one July 9, 2016

            Why is it always the most obviously stupid among white people who subscribe to the myth that their race is smarter? Rhetorical question.

          6. Tomron Wallen July 9, 2016

            It does seem that those whose intelligence is lower than that of a rock need to post bogus graphs just to show how there are “those” whose intelligence is lower than theirs. Shame!

    2. Elena Hamilton July 9, 2016

      <<o. ✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:::::::!uf463w:….,….

  2. A.T. July 9, 2016

    He brought an AR-15 to a peaceful protest where there was a shooting, and several officers were killed. There was panic and confusion and a desire to expedite the process of finding the shooter before anyone else was hurt or killed. I understand that he turned his rifle over to an officer, but it’s hard for me to feel sorry for him on this one. I’m sure they were going to want to bring in anyone who’d be openly carrying a rifle during a violent scene.

    1. 2ThinkN_Do2 July 9, 2016

      The protest didn’t start out violent, did it? No, so the logic here, is, well, not in existence.

      1. A.T. July 9, 2016

        Your response isn’t relevant to my comment. This man is looking for an apology for being a suspect, even though he was carrying a rifle (unnecessarily, because it was a peaceful protest) after a shooting. When someone is shooting, anyone with a gun is a suspect. That is expected.

        1. 2ThinkN_Do2 July 9, 2016

          It is relevant, the right to bear arms has nothing to do with peaceful or violent protest; it is a right either way. Assuming a person to be a suspect because they are carrying is profiling. It is not against the law to carry.

          1. A.T. July 10, 2016

            There was a shooting > With a rifle > There was a man carrying a rifle. Law enforcement wanted to talk to him. That’s not profiling. That’s their job. Wow.

        2. Tomron Wallen July 9, 2016

          This might be just an argument over what he should have been called (a person of interest?), but when shooting is being sustained, there is no reason to damn the police for looking for someone who (foolishly in my opinion) was marching about with an assault weapon. Too often we bitch about the small stuff, while the fact that people are being killed with those weapons is glossed over. Having a police apology and or an exoneration after investigation is far better than the possibility of further shooting while we worry about reputations. BUT, people on social media must respect and advance the retraction of the accusation as much as they immediately latch on to the sensationalism of it.

    2. notafoxfan July 9, 2016

      this man was interviewed by one of the cable new networks and he was asked why he would bring an assault rife to a peaceful march/rally..his answer was “because i have the right to do so”..i thought that was an odd response considering the tragedy,,but thats texas and there is an open carry law..he was smart enough to give his gun to an officer and he did tell the police he was the man in the picture..

      1. charleo1 July 9, 2016

        You’re right, That’s Texas! Where an AK across the shoulder is always considered proper attire. Whether just picnicking with the kids, or a trip to the local watering hole, or HS football game. Well, except where the politicians make the gun laws, and the Governor resides.

  3. Eleanore Whitaker July 9, 2016

    I beg to differ that this was a tragedy. It was an inevitability waiting to happen. It was just a matter of time before the flood of assault weapons would bite the butts of the gun happy nuts all singing the same “right to bear arms” tune.

    To me, this is laughable. A white male who shoots 11 school age kids with an assault weapon is mentally ill. But a black man with an assault weapon? Horror! Shame! Criminal! Evil! Wicked! and any other veiled form of racism the cowboys can muster.

    There was another peaceful protest no one is talking about where college students protesting a tuition increase sat peaceably on the lawn of the college when one bullheaded cop came along and for over 3 minutes had a ball pepper spraying more than a dozen of them.

    This video was on FB and YouTube. Yet, no one seems to find anything bad about that.

    If you cannot be anything, at least face facts. You have a society of young males out there who want to be more armed than cops, the National Guard or Police. What the hell good is owning an arsenal, if they can’t use them? That’s the mentality you now have.

    Sorry, but you got what you asked for.

  4. 2ThinkN_Do2 July 9, 2016

    Imagine if Mr Hughes had been shot an killed as a result of the assumption he might be involved in the shooting? Of course, it wouldn’t be much different than some of those shot to death, that the protest was about in the first place, would it? When I first saw the post of Mr Hughes’ photo, I was like: “that is their suspect” ???

  5. aboonaj July 9, 2016

    It’s the New “Most Dangerous Game”: getting credit for being “The First”.

  6. 2ThinkN_Do2 July 9, 2016

    We share lots of stats regarding the per capita death rate of the different races; what about the race of the LEO’s who are doing the shootings?

  7. Diane July 9, 2016

    He is lucky a vigilante didn’t take him out.

  8. johninPCFL July 11, 2016

    “It’s a strange kind of justice indeed when seemingly every publication and network accuses an innocent protester of slaughtering five police officers; when the desire to avenge this killing surpasses the need for accuracy.”
    I’m reminded of the Atlanta Olympics bombing where the wrong guy was fingered. Ratings…ratings…ratings. Nothing much has changed.


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