Minneapolis news reporter Jay Kolls has been silent on Twitter since late last night after he hosted a defensive Q&A session for the ages. His mentions started blowing up, as the hip kids say, within minutes of a Tweet that promoted his KSTP 5 Eyewitness News story on Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges making the rounds with two volunteers from Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, as they urged residents to get out and vote. Why on Earth would a story about that kind of community activism make so many people instantly pissed off at Kolls? Because, while posing for the above photo, Kolls and others claim, Hodges and Navell Gordon were displaying gang signs, and Kolls reported that the young man is a “2x convicted felon.”
Critics immediately accused Kolls of racism, specifically over the implication that a black man making a pointing gesture in a photo meant that he was holding up a gang sign, but he spent a considerable amount of time Tweeting that there was no racial motivation to his reporting. It all started with his story on the photo, and how he claimed in his limited allotment of Twitter characters that “Police not happy.”
The police that Kolls referred to in the Tweet and his story that aired on last night’s 10 o’clock news included retired Minneapolis officer Michael Quinn, who said that it was very clear that Gordon was holding up a gang sign and that Hodges “can’t be that naïve.”
“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.” (Via KSTP)
While Kolls never named Gordon, he reported that the man is “currently sentenced to five years at the St. Cloud Correctional Facility, with the prison term stayed for three years while he is under supervised probation until 2016.” Meanwhile, Hodges refused to speak with Kolls for his report, but her spokesperson claimed that “the mayor enjoys meeting with many people who are organizing on the North side” and “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.” Also refusing to respond was Minneapolis Police Chief Janee’ Harteau, and that’s where things start to get a little more ridiculous.
The story has now picked up steam under the hashtag name #pointergate, after people began mocking Kolls and KSTP over this news report, while showing support for Hodges. Writer Shaun King detailed the whole ordeal for the Daily Kos, writing that #pointergate “may be the most racist news story of 2014,” which is a remarkable statement considering he was on the ground, Tweeting throughout the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. But as King pointed out (a little pun intended), the headline of the KSTP story had some serious balls: “Mpls. Mayor Flashes Gang Sign with Convicted Felon; Law Enforcement Outraged.”
To me and many others, Hodges looked like she was pointing – some have suggested they were making checkmarks with their hands to symbolize voting – and that news report only had comments from two law enforcement officials, one who is retired and the other who is the president of the police union. In fact, John Delmonico bluntly told KSTP, “She knows better” before mentioning that Hodges has previously been “critical” of the Minneapolis Police Department. King makes the same assertion in his breakdown of #pointergate, writing that the police potentially “faked this story” to coincide with the launch of a new body camera program.
What was interesting about the report is that it failed to mention the name of the gang that Gordon belongs to (“… a known gang sign for a north side gang”) or why pointing is considered a gang sign in this particular situation. But it also ignored the fact that Minneapolis Police Chief Janee’ Harteau was with Hodges and Gordon on the day in question, as she attended the voting rally.