Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who was appointed by the governor to take control of security operations in the city of Ferguson, walks among demonstrators gathered along West Florissant Avenue on August 14, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Scott Olson/Getty

Those aren’t gang signs

One of the key leadership figures in the Ferguson crisis has been Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. It’s a shame, then, that Soraya Nadia McDonald had to explain that Johnson has not been photographed flashing gang signs with members of the community.
To reiterate: Capt. Johnson is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity that was formed in 1911 at Indiana University in Bloomington, and the hand sign you see in the pictures below is a Kappa greeting. The Kappas are part of the Divine Nine or the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the nine historically black fraternities and sororities that include Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta, none of which are gangs.
The gesture – which looks a bit like an A-OK sign turned on its side – is obviously harmless. It’s evidence of membership in a fraternity, not membership in a gang.
But that didn’t stop a variety of conservatives from pushing the line that Johnson was somehow involved directly in gang activity.
How would such nonsense get started?
Apparently, CNN published a piece on its iReport site – which has since been removed – that “reported” the findings that turned out to be completely wrong.
But as Raw Story’s report added, “The misinformation reportedly spawned a Facebook page calling on Johnson to step down, and also spread to other websites.”
TPM noted the idea that Johnson “was a member of the Bloods or some other gang still gained momentum on Twitter.”
It’s practically a case study in how a baseless accusation can spread based on ignorance and fear.
Soraya Nadia McDonald’s piece concluded, “[T]here’s some glaring cultural illiteracy when the top law enforcement officer installed by the governor of Missouri is being accused of throwing up gang signs.”
Update: A CNN representative emails with the following statement: “iReport is a social network for news. A small number of user submissions are approved for use on air and online. The iReport in question had not been vetted, was labeled as ‘NOT VERIFIED BY CNN,’ and was removed shortly after being flagged by the community. “