Monday, November 10, 2014

Yet Another Person Chimes In On #pointergate

If you're reading this, then you're no doubt already aware of the KSTP (Minneapolis) news story claiming the mayor was photographed making gang signs with an ex-felon. The gang sign in this instance was made by extending the index finger straight out and using it to draw a direct line to another person, or what we lay people call "pointing at someone." The faux non-story was quickly called out and led to national mockery of KSTP specifically and poor Minneapolis generally.

Plenty has already been said about how ridiculously racist the assumption that anything a Black person does with their hands is automatically a gang sign (hell, HuffPo called it "the most racist story of the year"). It is, much like the Fox News "terrorist fist jab" story a few years back, an obviously craven attempt to create a ridiculous story line out of nothing. One former KSTP staffer even wrote a great piece detailing why such racist dreck was allowed to make it to air in the first place.

What I'm most interested in this story, though, as a criminologist is the activity of the police in the report and subsequent follow-up pieces. Minneapolis PD, unfortunately, has a pretty long history of racial problems. Also significant to the story, they're not generally big fans of Mayor Hodges, who has made some overtures to cleaning up the force, nor the new chief (who, it should be pointed out, was about 5 feet away from the Mayor when she was being photographed making these "gang signs.").

And that's where the real impetus for the story comes in.

As one of the officers quoted in the original KSTP report notes, this is just another in a long line of actions Mayor Hodges has undertaken that upset rank-and-file police. And clearly they have seized upon this non-story as a chance to score political points against the Mayor. Which in and of itself is not such a big problem; while distasteful, that's how politics works. The problem is that the officer is on camera blatantly lying to the public. The gesture in the photo, as twitter has made more than clear, is simply two people pointing at each other. It is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be a "recognized gang sign." That is a simple, bald-faced lie.

And this is what should concern us as citizens worried about anything approaching equal protection under the law. Because if the police are willing to have a spokesperson come on tv and directly and obviously lie to the public simply to score cheap political points, when else are they willing to so glibly disregard the truth for when it conveniently suits them? What about, say, when one of their officers murders an unarmed teenager?

The Minneapolis PD has very little incentive to lie as they have during the Mayor Hodges photo story. It's just some dumb run-of-the-mill racism that will be forgotten within a few weeks. Yet they're obviously willing to appear on television blatantly lying about this small matter. When it comes to matters of significantly more weight, when there's a real incentive to hide the truth from the public, well then it's hard to blame those of us who have a difficult time accepting the police version of events.

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