Last week, a Minneapolis news station ran a story, provided to them by local law enforcement, claiming Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was photographed flashing gang signs with a known criminal. Of course, the truth turned out to be far different, as the photo was actually of Hodges and a community activist innocently pointing at each other during a ‘Get Out The Vote’ walk through a neighborhood. The ridiculousness of the news story and the police department’s attempt to smear the mayor, mostly due to her criticism of the department’s history of brutality, racial profiling and corruption, led to a social media meme known as #Pointergate.
In a blog posted to her website Thursday, the Democratic mayor addressed the police department’s made-up controversy in the best way possible. Likely emboldened by the #Pointergate tweets and Jon Stewart highlighting the absurdity of it all earlier in the week, Hodges slammed the department’s union leadership over the media hit job they tried to take out on her. Early on in her blog post, Hodges used humor to point out the silliness of the police union’s position that “she should know better” regarding her obvious use of known gang signs.
First, maybe the head of the police union would like me to stop pointing altogether for the safety of the community. If that were truly his concern, that my pointing constitutes gang activity, then his outrage would have been sparked long, long ago. Because as the internet has documented in great detail, I point. I point a lot. Lots of people point. The President. Bill Clinton. Stephen Colbert. Babies. It is the earliest form of human communication.* I’m not going to stop pointing.
After discussing the difficulty it would take in determining every person’s criminal background that she may interact within the community and then deciding if that background is cause enough not to be seen with that person, she then brought up stereotypes and the notion that she shouldn’t be taking pictures with young black men.
The third option may be that the head of the police union doesn’t want me standing next to young African American men. One frightening implication of the KSTP story and police union President Delmonico’s support of that story is their implicit assumption that I should use stereotypes to assess with whom I should or should not meet or stand or talk. As The Onion once satirically wrote, “Stereotypes are a real time saver.” It is not a good basis for decision-making, however. It blunts the humanity of the person making the judgment and creates unnecessary separation between two people in a world where more, rather than less, human connection is needed for us to move forward as a community.
Finally, Hodges pointed out the real reason local law enforcement tried to smear her with a disgusting piece of racial fear-mongering. She brought up the fact that she’s worked tirelessly to get the department to raise their standards and be accountable for their actions. The mayor unequivocally told police leadership that they failed in their attempt to silence her and she will continue to work towards improving community policing.
Which leaves one final option. It could be that the head of the police union wants me to stop working to raise the standards of police culture and accountability. It could be that he objects to the community policing and relationship-building measures that I am acting on, and attempted to use this non-story to discredit this work.
If that is the case, he has failed on two levels. First, the people of the internet have called out this story over and over with outrage and humor, shining the light of day on the ridiculous premise on which it was based.
Second, and more significantly, I am undaunted in my commitment to making sure that police-community relationships are as strong as they can be. I am undaunted in my desire to support and develop police officers who serve respectfully and collaboratively every day to keep people safe and make all our neighborhoods stronger. I am undaunted in my plans to increase accountability for consistent bad actors in the police department.
This whole episode has blown up in the faces of the Minneapolis police force and KSTP, the local news channel that forced aired the piece. Instead of hurting the mayor on a local level as they intended, it has only brought these issues to a national level. The station and police force have been shown to be racist buffoons and Hodges’ initiatives to improve local law enforcement have received positive press.
True to form, instead of backing off of the story, KSTP doubled-down Thursday night by airing another piece on the ‘controversy’, this time shifting the focus entirely on the young black man in the photo, Navelle Gordon. I guess local police and their compliant media outlet aren’t going to let this die. To be honest, they really, really should. It is only making them look petty, bigoted and spiteful.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).