It’s easily the worst story of 2014.

It’s comical until you realize it’s real. Then you have to go dash your head vigorously against a wall and emit loud yelps of despair. Learning that this video was real was like learning that Santa Claus was not.

In case you missed the Internet storm of hilarity and disbelief, it started last week when KSTP-TV in Minneapolis ran a story insisting that the mayor of Minneapolis, photographed pointing awkwardly in the course of a Get-Out-The-Vote effort, was flashing a gang sign with a criminal. They said all of this with straight, concerned faces. Could this just be innocent pointing? “She’s been around long enough, she knows better,” Minneapolis Police Federation head John Delmonico told the newscast. “Is she gonna support gangs in this city, or cops?”

“She’s legimitizing these people that are killing our children in Minneapolis,” a retired police officer tells KSTP.

And all because she dared to POINT, while standing next to a black person.

It is at moments like this that the Internet comes in so handy.

This has gotten the mockery it so richly deserved, earning its own #Pointergate hashtag (rife with examples of people flashing “dangerous gang signs”) and even making it to the Daily Show, which pointed out that “pointing as a gesture only goes back to literally the first form of human communication.

Here’s God flashing one now.

If it were fiction, it would be hilarious. It is still a little comical, but in the way that makes you want to go stand in the middle of a barren field and scream “OH, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE!” or something else more lifelike and hip.

There is reality, and there is satire, and there is the shadowland in between. There is the satire that people mistake for reality, the Onion article shared indignantly on Facebook. And there is also the reality that you mistake for satire, because you like to have faith in humanity. This is the latter.

Navell Gordon, the man in the photo, told the Huffington Post that “I’m pointing at the mayor. It’s not a gang sign. How would I be in a gang if I’ve been canvassing for two years, going door to door? What kind of gang member pops up at everybody’s door? I’m a known member of one of the bigger gangs in Minnesota, and I knock on everybody’s door? That’s just crazy.”

Yes, it is.

KSTP won’t apologize for the segment, standing by their stereotype-heavy context-light non-story.

And they just keep digging themselves in deeper. MPR News reported:

It might never have been an issue had Hodges simply shook the young man’s hand instead of pointing, said retired Omaha police officer Bruce Ferrell, who chairs the Midwest Gang Investigators Association.
“I don’t think anybody would have called shaking somebody’s hand stereotypical, racist, inappropriate or anything of the such,” said Ferrell, who was featured in two of the station’s follow-up pieces.

I’m sure they would have found a way. If you’ve been around long enough, you know a handshake is supposed to prove you aren’t holding a sword — and who would hold a sword but a member of a dangerous gang? Gang sign. There’s nothing innocent enough to escape comment, if you edit it just right.

But the mayor’s response has been refreshing. She wrote a blog post, complete with Onion citations, noting, in part:

First, maybe the head of the police union would like me to stop pointing altogether for the safety of the community. If that were truly his concern, that my pointing constitutes gang activity, then his outrage would have been sparked long, long ago. Because as the internet has documented in great detail, I point. I point a lot. Lots of people point. The President. Bill Clinton. Stephen Colbert. Babies. It is the earliest form of human communication.* I’m not going to stop pointing.
That option doesn’t make sense.
Second, maybe the head of the police union wants me to refrain from being in the presence of people whose criminal history I don’t know. In other words, maybe the head of the police union doesn’t want me interacting with the public. When I meet people, I don’t know if they have ever been arrested for or convicted of embezzlement, or domestic assault, or shoplifting, or murder, or burglary, or driving under the influence, gun or drug possession, or too many parking tickets. I have no way of knowing, nor do I ask. Frankly, if I did know that someone had a criminal past, it wouldn’t prevent me from talking with that person. It certainly wouldn’t prevent me from working on a Get Out The Vote drive with that person. That’s the kind of mayor Minneapolis chose.
That option doesn’t make sense, either.
The third option may be that the head of the police union doesn’t want me standing next to young African American men. One frightening implication of the KSTP story and police union President Delmonico’s support of that story is their implicit assumption that I should use stereotypes to assess with whom I should or should not meet or stand or talk. As The Onion once satirically wrote, “Stereotypes are a real time saver.” It is not a good basis for decision-making, however. It blunts the humanity of the person making the judgment and creates unnecessary separation between two people in a world where more, rather than less, human connection is needed for us to move forward as a community.
This is yet one more option that doesn’t make sense.
Which leaves one final option. It could be that the head of the police union wants me to stop working to raise the standards of police culture and accountability. It could be that he objects to the community policing and relationship-building measures that I am acting on, and attempted to use this non-story to discredit this work.
I share the public’s speculation that this is the real option….
I am undaunted in my plans to increase accountability for consistent bad actors in the police department.
Let me be clear on this final point. There is a critical difference between our good officers who have a bad day on the job, and officers, however few, who have a standing habit of mistreatment and poor judgment when relating to the public, particularly people of color. I am as concerned with the negative effects of this conduct on the police department as a whole as I am with its effects on our community. I am convinced that we can change it, even if it takes years.

She makes a good point.