The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson is not a gang member. He’s just a Kappa.

Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson meets with residents on Aug. 19 in Ferguson, Mo. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Update: CNN provided this statement to The Washington Post about the report that Capt. Ron Johnson was a gang member. The report came from CNN’s “iReport” platform. CNN wrote:

iReport is a user-generated social network for news. A small number of 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.

Today in Ferguson, Mo., news, The Washington Post takes on the assertion that Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson has been photographed flashing gang signs with members of the community.

He has not.

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.

This particular piece of misinformation, asserting Johnson was aligning himself with the Bloods, appears to have originated in a post on CNN’s iReport site — since removed — and then circulated on Twitter by user @DixielandDiva, an account that no longer exists.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reported a new Pew poll revealed considerably more African Americans than whites say the shooting of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer “raises important issues about race” (80 percent of blacks compared with 37 percent of whites). Given such differences in the perception of a national news event, there’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. This actually makes Johnson not unlike Brown himself — the publication of a photo of Brown flashing the peace sign, which was also misinterpreted as a gang sign, is what sparked #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. Part of the conversation surrounding Brown’s killing centered on black Americans being treated as foreigners in their own country or, in sociology-speak, being “othered.” Some would say black folks must constantly prove their humanity or, at the very least, explain black American culture — sometimes a comically Sisyphean task. Case in point: having to state that Missouri highway patrol captain Ron Johnson is not a gang member.