A couple of hours ago, a King County Superior Court judge declined to press charges against a young man named Brendan McCormack who had been accused of vandalizing bank ATMs in the Capitol Hill area late last year.
There was not enough evidence, the judge said, to link McCormack to the crimes, despite the prosecutor's insistence that he was a "self-proclaimed anarchist" and the vandalized bank machines had been spray-painted with the old circle-A. An anarchist does not a vandal make. (If McCormack is even an anarchist to begin with—he is an activist and has been approached and photographed by police at political demonstrations, but "self-proclaimed anarchist" are the prosecutor's words, not his.)
Earlier in the week, Seattle police officers searched McCormack's apartment looking for a skateboard helmet, some goggles, a scarf, a backpack, and other items they say they recognized from grainy, surveillance-video footage of the ATM vandal.
According to the search warrant, officers seized a backpack, a helmet, and so on from his and his roommate's apartment, as well as a crowbar, a thumb drive (containing his resume), cell phones, and a few other items.
But being seen at demonstrations and owning commonplace items that appeared in surveillance footage was not, the judge concluded, sufficient to charge McCormack with the seven counts of malicious mischief the prosecutor was after, which could have led to years in prison, as well as becoming a felon.
So far, so insignificant. But check out the way KIRO 7 handled the story:
Not only do they fall for the whole "violence is vandalism" fallacy—smashing an ATM is not violence, unless you consider people the moral equivalent of property—they repeatedly proclaim his guilt before he's even been charged.
"Henry, you came face-to-face with this guy today," says the anchor (as if a guy accused of vandalism were a tiger with rabies). "I did," reporter Henry Rossof says, "that's after we took a look at this search warrant where you can see he was caught on camera." Um, that's not what the judge said today.
Then Rossof approaches McCormack at his door, shoves a mic in his face, and states: "We were just wondering why you smashed up those banks."
That's not even a question. That's an assertion. And, again, not what the judge said this afternoon. (I spoke with Rossof on the phone this afternoon, but he would not be able to comment unless his executive editor gave the go-ahead.)
Call me old-fashioned, but a reporter assuming someone is guilty of a crime—twice—because a) the police say so, and b) he's got some unusual political affiliations seems like a problem.
And my fellow reporters wonder why anarchists (and other radicals) don't seem to like us very much.