SACRAMENTO (AP) — A weekly newspaper has been criticized for its illustrations of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson that civil rights leaders and prominent members of the black community have deemed racist and stereotypical.
The NAACP’s Sacramento branch demanded an apology Thursday from the Sacramento News & Review for drawings it says darkened Johnson’s skin color, accentuated his lips, made his eyes look “buggy” and his ears larger than in real life, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The paper’s July 9 issue featured the illustrations on the cover and accompanying an article about Johnson’s legal battle with the city and newspapers over the release of emails between Johnson and his attorney.
News & Review co-editor Nick Miller said the illustrations of the mayor, a former professional basketball player, were not racist.
“We are totally sympathetic to what their members might be feeling right now, but this illustration is about our mayor,” Miller said in a telephone interview Friday. “He’s been hiding emails from the public, he filed a lawsuit against us, and the illustration shows him surprised and nervous and shocked about our reporting.
“It’s based on an actual photo of the mayor and we don’t think that’s in any way a violent, crazed or racist depiction of the mayor at all,” he said, adding that the newspaper supports the mission of the NAACP.
Branch President Stephen Webb compared the caricatures to minstrel images from the Jim Crow era.
“When I saw the caricature I thought, ‘Wow. Have we gone back in time?’” Webb told the Bee.
Calls to the NAACP and Johnson’s spokesman, Ben Sosenko, by The Associated Press were not immediately returned Friday.
The newspaper and the mayor have been entangled in legal wrangling over access to emails from the mayor’s office and a private Gmail account used by the mayor’s staff with the acronym OMKJ, or Office of Mayor Kevin Johnson.
Johnson’s attorneys sought to block the release of some emails related to the mayor’s leadership of the National Conference of Black Mayors from 2013 to 2014. When the city attorney determined the emails were subject to public records laws, Johnson’s private attorney sued the city to block their release to the public, citing attorney-client privilege for exchanges involving attorneys.