How Not to Confuse Missouri Highway Capt. Ron Johnson (or Anyone Else) for a Gang Member

Arit John
The Atlantic Wire
How Not to Confuse Missouri Highway Capt. Ron Johnson (or Anyone Else) for a Gang Member

After a false CNN iReport, several people were convinced that Capt. Ron Johnson, the Ferguson native and Missouri Highway Patrolman in charge of the city's protests, was a gang member and, more astonishingly, was flashing gang signs in public with residents. As The Washington Post reported, a now deleted iReport featured Johnson making a hand gesture with a young man. Both were making the greeting symbol from the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, which was mistaken for a gang sign. 

For future reference, here's how to not recklessly accuse people of being in gangs:

1. Don't get your news from unverified CNN iReports

CNN applies some moderation to its iReports platform, but everything goes up. “We don’t prescreen anything before it’s posted (to the iReport website), but we do apply a level of moderation to every single piece of content,” Lila King, the participation director for CNN Digital, told Poynter in 2012. “Let’s say I upload a video, it will published directly to the site as long as I register and give some contact information.” In April the platform noted that only a handful of stories are verified by CNN staff:

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We receive hundreds of iReports a day, and only a fraction of those are cleared and approved for CNN's non-user-generated networks and platforms, after a CNN producer fact-checks and verifies the details of a story. When a story is approved, the "Not Verified for CNN" bar disappears and is replaced by a red "CNN iReport" bug that lets the community know a story has been cleared. 

CNN's iReport is occasionally spammed with false reports, meaning it requires a bit of skepticism from the reader. That leads to our second point:

2. Educate yourself on black greek life. 

At the very least, be able to distinguish a gang sign from a fraternity greeting. As Shani Hilton at BuzzFeed put it:

Kappa Alpha Psi was founded in 1911 and their colors are red (which is relevant if your next step after "gang!" is "Bloods"). There are nine historically black Greek fraternities and sororities. Johnson's Kappa affiliation has been suspected for several days, as The Root first noted last week

3. Ask yourself if you're being racist. 

Soraya Nadia McDonald at The Post writes that "some would say black folks must constantly prove their humanity or, at the very least, explain black American culture  ... Case in point: having to state that Missouri highway patrol captain Ron Johnson is not a gang member." A simple question to ask yourself: Do I think this hand symbol is a gang sign because the individual making it has known gang affiliations, or because he's black? That's also a question more writers should have asked before mistaking Brown's peace sign for a gang sign

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