A KSTP-TV report generated a national tempest Friday over what many saw as a ludicrous claim that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges displayed a gang sign while posing for a photo last week.
The story grew into one of the most discussed topics nationally on Twitter under the heading “#pointergate.” News outlets from Reuters to MSNBC flooded the mayor’s office with calls seeking comment.
The photo shows Hodges and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change canvasser Navell Gordon pointing at each other with their thumbs extended upward. Reporter Jay Kolls said in his story that “law enforcement agencies” told him it was a sign used by a north Minneapolis gang. The story didn’t identify Gordon but said he has a criminal history and quoted both the head of the police union and a retired officer as saying the gesture was inappropriate.
“Is she going to support gangs in the city or cops?” John Delmonico, president of the city’s police union, said in an on-camera interview. Delmonico and Hodges have had a frosty public relationship recently, crystallized in a recent op-ed he penned in the Star Tribune criticizing some of her comments about the police.
Hundreds took to social media to lambaste the story, calling it a racist take on an innocent, and common, gesture. Photos of dozens of nationally known figures — from Oprah to President Clinton to Hulk Hogan — making the same type of gesture flooded the Internet, along with mocking questions about whether they had gang ties.
Others pointed out that the gesture seemed to differ significantly from the hand gestures made in photos that purport to show members of the gang in question.
Gordon, 22, has faced criminal charges for drug and firearm possession. He said in an interview he has been trying to straighten out his life while working for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change the past two years. “I was actually blessed to even be with the mayor,” Gordon said. “But yes, we are pointing at each other.”
Activists also stood up for Gordon in September after cops allegedly tackled and handcuffed him while he was collecting signatures outside Cub Foods.
Hodges’ office agreed Friday that the mayor and Gordon were simply pointing at one another. The mayor’s office also released its initial statement to KSTP, which said the canvassing included people from all walks of life.
“It was a diverse group, including people who have made mistakes in their past,” the statement said. “The more supportive that we all can be of people who are making better choices now, the better off we all will be in the future.”
Kolls and KSTP news director Lindsay Radford did not respond to inquiries seeking comment Friday. In a statement, the station said it stood by the story.
“Multiple sources from several law enforcement agencies told 5 Eyewitness News the photo had the potential for undermining the work they are doing on the streets,” the statement read.
A follow-up report by Kolls Friday night stood by the assertion that a gang symbol was involved and quoted the same former officer, Michael Quinn, saying, “The gangs are going to use this picture to show that they’ve got the mayor’s support.”