Reflections on “Pointergate”

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The Twin Cities have been rocked by more than an arctic blast this November, the now infamous “#Pointergate” scandal has drawn national attention.

Questions have risen to the surface: How did KSTP (one of our local news stations) think it would be sensible to run a story indirectly accusing Mayor Betsy Hodges of standing in solidarity with North Minneapolis gangs? How is it acceptable for police officers to directly accuse the Mayor of standing in solidarity by pointing with her hand? As the momentum of outrage wilts away, I think the public is going to be forced to make a choice on the matter. Will the push be to get KSTP to apologize or will, as Hodges’ response itself has indicated, the lion’s share of the pressure go towards pushing for change in the policing of Minneapolis?

On the KSTP side of things, they are set to keep digging in their heels. They cite sources with authority in their defending article and note that the contextual video of the photo was not available to them at the time. Yet this would leave the photo’s interpretation like an intelligent human being as still being markedly questionable.

Sometimes acting like intelligent human beings is not in the interest of journalism. Take this famous video for example:

KSTP probably wanted something controversial to create buzz even if it rode the line of common sense. In many respects they are benefiting from an absorbed public. Another piece of common sense: keeping the spotlight on the unabashed attention-seeker is counterproductive!

Further, they won’t apologize (or will delay doing so) because most of those calling for it want something along the lines of unconditional surrender. They want KSTP to admit to things (like being racist) which they never intended in the first place. They simply wanted a story (and thought they had one because they had sources with authority they thought could outweigh simple interpretation).

Does KSTP hold some ill will against Mayor Hodges? Were they purposefully racist against Navell Gordon (the other person pointing in the photo) by merely referring to him as “a convicted felon” in their TV segment? The evidence would point to no; they simply wanted an expedient, hot-button news item.

Wrapping up the KSTP side of the story, I would actually like to thank them. Unintentionally (or perhaps not), they have sharpened a very complex constellation of problems within the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) into an instrument that residents can get behind. This autumn’s revelation of racial disparities in arrests, the subsequent letter from Mayor Hodges and the deplorable response from Lt. John Delmonico (president of the city’s police union) didn’t bring the needed public attention and scrutiny on to the issues. Now we are talking about them. Let’s do just that.

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Lt. John Delmonico

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis (police union) is a powerful political force. Its endorsement has been a key piece in securing victories in the last four governor races (most recently that of Governor Mark Dayton, who has been predictably silent on this issue). It has influenced laws such as police dog assault legislation and medical marijuana legislation. Its leader, Lt. John Delmonico, has had clashes with politicians and police chiefs alike. He is an old-fashioned style union leader who looks out for the interest of officers regardless of circumstance (or nearly almost so).

How can the public take on a union leader? That’s a super complex question. It starts with the brunt of blame from Pointergate and the various auxiliary issues (like racial arrest disparities) being placed upon him. He represents the unapologetic boulder standing in the way of Minneapolis correcting its policing flaws. He has issued challenge after challenge against any reform of the MPD.

Although I don’t agree with the exact wording and sentiments deployed in the recently published open letter (and petition) to Lt. John Delmonico, I think it’s the best step in moving towards a positive outcome for Minneapolis. I would encourage residents and non-residents alike to read and sign it.

Mayor Betsy Hodges isn’t exactly the most powerful politician (the Mayor’s authority in Minneapolis is pretty weak, the Council is where the real power rests); but she is willing to attempt reform for the benefit of all Minneapolitans. It’s not an easy or likely thing to happen in a one party city, but she is doing it. She needs help in fighting un-elected political forces, the greatest being the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis and her new adversary Lt. John Delmonico.

Let’s not let this issue fade away, but also keep our focus squarely on the source of the problem.

 

Photos via: Tony Webster — Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis

 

 

 



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