‘Gang sign’ story backfires on KSTP

(This post has been updated at 5:09 with a KSTP update, which is posted at the bottom of this page)

From the “Department of Are You Serious?” comes this from KSTP, which alleges that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges knows a gang sign.

Photo: KSTP

The photo was taken a week before the November election while the mayor canvassed neighborhoods with a nonprofit group in a get-out-the-vote event. Hodges declined repeated requests for interviews. But, her spokesperson told us the mayor enjoys meeting with many people who are organizing on the North side.

The spokesperson also says the man in the photo is well regarded by the nonprofit that employs him and the mayor is simply “pointing at him” in the photo. Retired Minneapolis Police officer, Michael Quinn, who also managed the department’s Internal Affairs Unit, says the photo is “disappointing because it puts police officers at risk.”

When asked to respond to the mayor’s statement that she is just “pointing at him.” He said, “she can’t be that naive. I cannot imagine.”

“She is legitimizing these people. She is legitimizing gangs who are killing our children in Minneapolis and I just can’t believe it. It hurts,” Quinn said.

Quinn says law enforcement agencies are “going to be pissed about this. They’re going to be angry and they should be.”

“A gang sign?” one commenter notes on the KSTP website, in a barrage of heavy criticism of the “story.”

“They’re pointing to each other. The man in the photo is doing good by encouraging people to participate in our democratic process. He did wrong in the past, served his time, is trying to do right now and has to deal with this BS??? We’ve all made mistakes before, and we all deserve a second chance. Shame on KSTP for trying to take his second chance away from him. Terrible job, KSTP – your credibility has taken a hit.”

Hodges and Navell Gordon were actually door-knocking in a get-out-the-vote effort for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. Its video shows the real story of people working for good, and exposes KSTP’s intention to gin up a story with racist overtones.

“I made some mistakes in life. I can’t vote, I’m not ashamed to say that,” Gordon says in the video. “I’m working on fixing that right now so I can be able to vote for my next president, do you understand?”

That has the aroma of a pretty good story.

Instead, reporter Jay Kolls saw it this way:

Which should surprise Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau who was with them. Harteau, it’s fair to say, probably knows the difference between a point and a gang sign.

Photo: Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.

The station is getting condemned on social media, which has created the #pointergate hashtag.

For his part, reporter Kolls is unrepentant:

On her Star Tribune blog, Nekima Levy-Pounds calls out KSTP:

Because of the Mayor’s willingness to reach into the community and build connections, she too, was labeled in a similar manner and accused of having gang affiliations.

I posit, another reason the Mayor was targeted in the story is the fact that she has demonstrated courage by speaking publicly about much-needed reforms within the Minneapolis Police Department, including the body-cam pilot project that is being rolled out today.

Resistance to change comes in many forms, and sadly this is one of the worst examples of such resistance. The young man in the photo was merely a convenient scapegoat for a larger agenda.

The constant portrayal of young black men as gangsters, thugs, and criminals can be seen nearly every night on the news or in newspapers in Minnesota and around the country. Undoubtedly these negative perceptions contributed to the untimely deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, and countless other victims.

The daily replaying of the narrative of blackness as evil, dangerous, and in the case of Mayor Hodges, contagious, has a cumulative effect on the American psyche and permanently warps our perceptions of the “other.” Indeed, nary can many of us walk past a young African American man without a whole host of racial stereotypes, prejudices, and fears coming to the surface.

Update 11:31 a.m. – On its website, KSTP has now posted this statement:


That’s some serious “doubling down,” and highly questionable ethics since the decision to blur the gentleman’s face and not reveal anything about the organization is what denied the context, thus revealing the scantilly clad nature of the KSTP story in the first place.

What KSTP had was a picture without context and some cops who had a picture without context, and that was enough for KSTP to create the story.

That’s the problem that people have been trying to point out today, KSTP.

They’ve painted the picture for you.

Update 5:07 p.m. KSTP “triples-down” with a justification that everyone has missed the point.

Law enforcement agencies say the criticism of the photo of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges making what they call a gang sign with a convicted felon misses the point.
Michael Quinn, who spent more than 30 years in law enforcement, including 25 years with Minneapolis Police, says the photo is not about race, or police being “alarmists.”
Quinn says he does not believe Mayor Hodges endorses gangs and says she “probably didn’t even know what the hand gesture meant.”

But, he says, it sends a bad message and it is the perception it creates that makes the job of investigating gangs and ending the violence more difficult.
Quinn says the gesture is a “known gang sign of one of the most violent gangs in Minneapolis and they will use this to their advantage.”

Quinn says there is a reason the man posted the photo on his web site and he says “there could be another gang that would take it as a show of disrespect and commit another crime to solve the dispute.”
What the general public does not understand, Quinn says, “is the signs have real meaning on the street and gangs take them seriously and people have died for simply flashing a gang sign. That’s all we are saying. This is serious and can lead to serious consequences.”

The Mayor and the photo with the man was taken at a get-out-the-vote event over a week ago.

So the sign was a message to gangs? If so, it’s a message that was spread thanks to the Minneapolis police union and KSTP spreading it.

That’s less plausible than another possibility: The police union is paying the mayor back for her claim in a letter to Minneapolis residents last month that there are some bad apples in the Minneapolis police department, a claim that brought a vitriolic response from one of the people quoted in the KSTP story.

Your words and actions do not support your purported goal of improving the relationship between police and communities. Accepting and spreading misperceptions about your Police Department fuels the flames — it does not extinguish them. No amount of effort by officers or expenditure of taxpayers’ money for cameras or other gadgetry will improve the relationship between officers and communities when elected officials repeatedly undermine those efforts by perpetuating mythology in those communities for their own political aggrandizement.

More information: Explaining #pointergate: The missing context (Minnesota Public Radio News).