True outrage, or police playing politics? An ABC affiliate in Minneapolis, 5 Eyewitness News (KSTP), is reporting that police are “fuming” after discovering a photo on Facebook in which Mayor Betsy Hodges is allegedly flashing gang signs with a convicted felon and gang member. Or, are they seizing on something innocuous to bring bad press to the mayor while she’s in the midst of pushing for department reform?
Here’s the photo in question, which police claim shows Hodges with a felon and alleged gang member (unnamed by KSTP) flashing a gang sign representative of a north side gang in Minneapolis:
I cannot verify whether or not that is a gang sign for a particular Minneapolis gang, due to unfamiliarity with Minneapolis gangs. However, it seems extremely unlikely that any mayor anywhere would intentionally throw up a gang sign for a picture, and considering the relatively general hand sign being made, the statement by the mayor’s office on the nontroversy seems pretty solid:
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.
This is corroborated by Nekima Levy-Pounds, a professor at University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis and the founding director of the Community Justice Project, who is familiar with the young man in question:
I had the privilege of meeting the young man in the photo several months ago at a community meeting. I learned that he has worked hard to reintegrate back into the community by being employed as a canvasser at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) for the past two years. This young man personally knocked on thousands of doors during the election season to help get out the vote and educate community residents about the impacts of felon disenfranchisement in Minnesota.
As a young black man with a criminal history, he has experienced numerous challenges in attempting to successfully reintegrate back into society. Many of those challenges have occurred in his interactions with law enforcement in Minneapolis. He has been handcuffed and detained for things like spitting on the sidewalk and even arrested at a Cub Foods store on the Northside for registering people to vote. Last weekend, this same young man was part of a larger effort to engage in door knocking with members of NOC, the Mayor, and Chief Harteau. The photo in question was taken briefly during that effort.
And the timing of the accusations by police — unnamed police, except Michael Quinn, retired — is suspect. Lately, there has been community pressure for police reform, and Mayor Betsy Hodges hasn’t been quiet with criticism when policing is taken too far. In an open letter from Hodges to the “communities of Minneapolis,” posted a month ago, she had the following to say:
Running the city well for everyone means making sure that every resident of Minneapolis feels safe and is safe, in every neighborhood. Hundreds of police officers serve respectfully and collaboratively every day to keep people safe and make neighborhoods across our city stronger. But not all do: some officers abuse the trust that is afforded to them, and take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it. Minneapolis has, and has had, officers like that. These officers do not represent a majority of the department, but their behavior disrupts community trust for all officers in the community. When left unchecked, their behavior fosters a culture inside the department that gives a shove downward to police and community relationships. When that culture exists, good cops face even more hurdles to fostering a positive culture and bad cops have even more room to maneuver, and the downward spiral continues. This is why it is so important to check bad behavior and end it, once and for all.
The mayor isn’t alone in her judgement of poor community relations with the police. A DOJ report found the same thing, when Hodges asked for an outside audit. Strangely enough, KTSP mentioned absolutely none of this in a grab for the most sensational spin on the story possible, and their readers aren’t being kind in the comments section about it:
Last time I checked, simply pointing didn’t automatically constitute throwing up gang signs. I guess it’s different when you’re a mayor pushing for police reform and standing next to a black man.