How's this for a nightmare: Lanell Dowling, a 26-year-old man from Brooklyn, was thrown into jail last year after someone told the cops that he looked exactly like the sketch of a violent mugger posted around the neighborhood. They looked into it, and wow! Even the Precinct commander remarked to the press at the time, "I've never seen something like that before," meaning how uncanny the similarity was. (Wait — isn't that the point?) So, convinced were they that they had their man, because — come on, have you seen the sketch? — they showed him to the four victims for positive identification. "Yup!" they said. "That's him!"
But Dowling swore he never did it. He submitted to a lie detector test. He passed. No dice. They threw him in jail, where he sat for seven long months, until Wednesday, when he was released after his defense attorney produced cellphone records that put him nowhere near the crime scene. (Thank God for cellphone records. Who's going to complain about how hard AT&T sucks after their terrible reception gets you sprung from jail for a crime you didn't commit?)
Anyway, what I'm getting at here is just to point out how all of our fates hang by the thread of these ridiculously rudimentary charcoal sketches. I mean, the Precinct commander was marveling at how much the drawing looked like Dowling — and that was when he was actually convinced of his guilt! Just how much wiggle room are these sketches given, anyway? (And yes, granted, Dowling was I.D.'d by the four victims, but they were older women who'd probably been versed on how they'd turned up this remarkable sketch doppleganger, and all they needed to do was give it the thumbs up to feel safe forever.)
Finally, I'm just going to acknowledge this: Dowling looks like a lot of other guys. He has a handsome, generic-looking, African-American face. I live in Los Angeles. There's billboards everywhere with sketches of those gangbanger Dodgers fans who brutally beat a Giants fan on opening day. Everyone I know has remarked upon how those sketches look like approximately two million other guys in the city. How are those going to narrow anything down? The answer is, they aren't. Pretty much anyone can look like any police drawing. In fact, you know that damning sketch that put Dowling in jail? It was recycled (well, they added a baseball hat) and used again for a completely different case while he was sitting in jail!