On Thursday night, KSTP aired an outrageous and inflammatory story accusing one of our lead organizers, Navell Gordon, of flashing a gang sign with Mayor Betsy Hodges, in the course of a get-out-the-vote doorknock last weekend. In reality, the photo snapped during the event shows them merely pointing at each other. After critiques of this story went viral on Twitter, KSTP issued a statement standing by the story. KSTP insinuates that our outrage is misplaced because they are critiquing only Mayor Hodges: “5 Eyewitness News blurred the individual’s face and did not name the group he was working for because police called into question only the judgment of Mayor Betsy Hodges.”
But this story is not about Mayor Hodges. It’s about Navell.
Navell has been working as an organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change for two years. This year, he was a leader in our civic engagement work, part of a team that knocked over 55,000 doors. In a year where voter turnout was down 5.5% across Minnesota, in our neighborhood in north Minneapolis, the number of voters increased by 13%–and Navell played a key role in that. Navell can’t vote right now because he’s serving probation for a nonviolent felony. But he’s proud to get out the vote in his community and looking forward to voting in the 2016 presidential election. He’s the first to tell you he’s turned his life around, and that NOC has played a role in that.
But instead of any of this background, KSTP takes Navell’s entire life and reduces him to “convicted felon” in a leading news headline. KSTP seems miffed that we are offended by this—after all, they blurred out Navell’s face and didn’t mention NOC specifically. They say they’re just trying to question the mayor’s judgment. But this stance devalues Navell as a human, eliminates any mention of his amazing civic engagement work, and reduces him to an anonymous scary black man, deliberately playing into racial stereotypes that all young black men are criminals. Although they are merely pointing at each other, to KSTP this is a “gang sign.” This fits a long line of black people being used as political fodder in the media, slandering their names carelessly and perpetuating racial stereotypes to advance a political agenda. To question the mayor’s judgment in posing with Navell is an insult to Navell, NOC, and anyone with any sense of decency.