KSTP is taking heat for a story accusing Mayor Betsy Hodges of flashing "gang" signs in a photo. I talk to retired Minneapolis police officer Mike Quinn, who appeared in KSTP's original story and who has been a source for my stories in the past, to try to understand where the story began and why.
Molly Priesmeyer: So let me understand: KSTP contacted you, and they said "we have this photo, what do you think of it?"
Mike Quinn: Yes, that's right.
Have you seen the YouTube video, or only the photo?
No, only the photo.
And someone from the MPD allegedly contacted KSTP, and then they contacted you?
Yes, I would assume someone from the MPD contacted them.
So you assume the MPD contacted them?
So at that point, had you talked to anyone from the MPD about the photo?
So you were just assuming they were angry about it?
Well, if they aren't they should be.
Because why? Tell me why.
Here's the problem. Whether or not the person involved in the picture with the mayor is involved in a gang or not, they are flashing gang signs. Legitimate gang signs. These are the kinds of signs that gang members use to identify each other or threaten each other.
Let's just take some kid who sees this thing on YouTube or sees the picture online and says, "Look, even the mayor can flash gang signs." If he is in the wrong place at the wrong time and flashes gang signs, he is literally putting his life at risk. This is potentially going to kill some kid who does it as a joke, saying, "Well, the mayor does it, why can't I do it?"
So here's the other part of it that bothers me. It lends legitimacy to the gangster culture and says this is okay to do this, when in fact it's not.
Why would the mayor do something like that? It's naive on her part.
But why would the mayor of a major city knowingly flash a gang sign for a camera? What the majority of people say she is doing, as she has done in other photos, is she is smiling and pointing in a jokey way. Are you saying she knows she is flashing a gang sign?
I don't know if she [knew it was] or not. I have no way of knowing that. She should've. She's the mayor of the city, she lives in the city. This is not an uncommon gang sign. This is one of the more common ones.
So it's a common gang sign? A finger point?
It's a gang sign that is known to police officers, certainly. Let's put it that way. Let's say she didn't know it was a gang sign. The point is now there is a perception. Here she is with what could be a gang member, and they're flashing gang signs and there's a picture of it. It looks terrible.
This was a picture on Navell Gordon's [organizer with Neighorhoods Organizing for Change] Facebook page. If the MPD found it, and I still can't verify who at the department went to KSTP with the picture, then they went straight to the media with it. Some say this is retaliation for Hodges' response to the open letter, which calls for more police accountability, and for things like the body cameras, which are just being introduced.
I don't buy that for a minute. The body camera thing, I have talked to a number of cops who are looking forward to the body cameras. That's not part of the issue at all.
I think all she would have to do is say, "look this was a mistake. I didn't associate this man with a gang. This is not about supporting gangs." Come out with a strong statement against gang culture and the use of gang signs and this would go away.
And you heard Anthony Newby from Neighborhoods Organizing for Change [the organization Hodges was door-knocking with] on MPR this morning, who talked about there being serious problems with race in the city.
I agree with a lot of what Anthony says. We do have an issue with racism in the city of Minneapolis. Certainly the idea that blacks are being incarcerated at a greater rate than whites are is evidence of racism individually and certainly of racist policies. That has been going on for a long time. You can go back to the African American Men's Project and see that at point in time 44 percent of the African American men in the city ages 18-30 had a criminal history. There is something really wrong with law enforcement policies and criminal justice polices that puts that many people at risk. But that's not a recent event.
If this fiasco with the picture leads to more talks on race and the issue of race and how we are doing criminal justice within the city of Minneapolis, this will turn out to be a good thing.
But do you see how this story itself seems borne of racial policies? If this were a white man in the picture, do you think it would be an MPD issue? Would KSTP have contacted you? Would it ever be a story if it were her pointing at a white person?
No, it would still. This isn't about the race of the gang. We've got white gangs within the state of Minnesota that are every bit as vicious as any black gang on the street. You don't have to go very far looking up gangs to see that Minnesota has been the hotbed from some really racist, nasty gangs. It isn't about that.
This is about the perception that this is gang culture communication. The mayor shouldn't be doing that.
You said you haven't spoken to anyone at the MPD….Could this story be totally misconstrued?
I should't say I haven't talked to anybody. I haven't talked to anyone that is willing to come forward and say anything.
But when KSTP contacted you for the story, it was the first you heard of it.
It seems strange that if officers strongly believed this was a real issue--that the photo posed a real threat--that they're not coming forward to talk about it more.
I can't speak for them.
So what do you think of the reaction to the story? It's gone national.
I think all the mayor would have to do is step up and say, "I shouldn't have done that. I do not support the gang culture," and she could just walk away from the whole thing. What bothers me is that she hasn't done that.
But in her defense, she is pointing at someone. To take something that was maybe a goofy, innocent moment and apologize for it gives her a certain amount of culpability….
I am speaking as a citizen of Minneapolis. If she stepped up and said, "It wasn't meant that way. I don't support gang culture. Kids do not do this." I would take that as a sign of strength on her part.
But the response has been that this is racist story, there are plenty of photos of politicians doing the same thing in photos. The story isn't about gangs, and more about inherent racism of the media and Minneapolis Police Department. Do you see how this story could be seen as racist?
No, I don't think race has anything to do with [this story].
If this ends up being a good starting point to talk about the issue of race--and racism of the policies and people in the department, then that's a good thing. If a policy ends up in racial disparities, that's a problem.
Maybe the good thing that will come out of this, we'll get more discussion out of it.