MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The mayor of Minneapolis isn't flashing a gang sign in a photo quickly gaining traction online, but rather pointing at a man helping in a voting campaign, her spokeswoman and community groups said Friday in response to allegations made in a television report and by a police union.
KSTP-TV aired a report Thursday night quoting the head of the Minneapolis police union saying that the Nov. 1 photo of Mayor Betsy Hodges and a community activist, who are pointing a finger at each other with their thumbs raised, shows the pair flashing a known gang sign.
The report was swiftly criticized on social media, with hundreds of tweets ridiculing the report or calling it racist. Many show photos of U.S. presidents, Pope Francis and even Cookie Monster using similar hand gestures, under the hashtag #Pointergate.
Hodges' spokeswoman, Kate Brickman, told The Associated Press on Friday that the photo merely shows the mayor and Navell Gordon, an employee of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, "pointing at each other" while knocking on doors to get out the vote in north Minneapolis. She said the mayor has many photos on her Facebook page showing her making the same gesture with others.
KSTP News Director Lindsay Radford stood by the report Friday. She issued a statement saying law-enforcement sources, whom she didn't name, alerted the station to the photo and said it could jeopardize officers' safety or their work on the street, "especially given the recent increase in gang violence."
A police spokesman said the department had no comment. Police Chief Janee Harteau and the mayor declined to comment on the report during a news conference Friday to announce a pilot program to equip officers with body cameras.
VJ Smith, the national president of MADDADS, a group working to curb inner-city violence, said the gesture wasn't gang-related. Smith said the mayor was working hard to connect with young people and empower youth.
"There is no gang sign associated with that," Smith told the AP. "It would be ridiculous for a mayor to put up a gang sign. That's not what she wants to do. ... It wouldn't make sense for a mayor to do that and everybody knows that."
Minneapolis Police Federation President John Delmonico told KSTP the gesture was a gang sign and that the mayor should have known better.
"She's been around long enough," he told the station. "When you have the mayor of a major city, with a known criminal, throwing up gang signs, that's terrible."
Delmonico didn't return a call from the AP. There had already been tensions between police and the mayor, who has called for tougher action against police misconduct.
Gordon acknowledged he has a criminal record but said he's been working to change his life. He told the AP he felt blessed to stand next to the mayor and said he was dismayed by the photo flap.
Anthony Newby, executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, called the story a "slanderous hit piece" and said the outrage on social media backs that up.
AP reporters Amy Forliti and Jeff Baenen contributed to this report.