Controversial Sacramento News & Review caricatures of Mayor Kevin Johnson drew further criticism Thursday from civil rights leaders and prominent members of the black community as the local chapter of the NAACP held a news conference to demand an apology from the weekly paper.
The July 9 issue featured a cover drawing of Johnson with an astonished look, furrowed brow and sweat dripping from his forehead; an inside page depicted six head shots of the mayor in a similar fashion. The News & Review devoted much of the issue to Johnson’s lawsuit against the publication and the city to prevent the release of emails between the mayor and his private attorney.
In a news conference Thursday morning, black leaders said the cartoons showed a “blatant disregard” for how stereotypical images may impact the black community and demanded that the newspaper apologize. If they don’t, organizers said, the NAACP will encourage a boycott of the News & Review.
Nearly a dozen local reporters stood in the cafeteria of the NAACP’s Oak Park headquarters as branch President Stephen Webb held up the newspaper caricature next to minstrel images from the Jim Crow era that were used to depict black people as clownlike, inhuman or dangerous.
“When I saw the caricature I thought, ‘Wow. Have we gone back in time?’” Webb said.
Webb criticized the News & Review for darkening Johnson’s skin color, accentuating his lips, making his eyes look “buggy” and his ears larger. He said the newspaper should be more mindful of the images it propagates, regardless of any personal conflict with the mayor.
The News & Review has repeatedly said the illustrations were not racist and were drawn from an actual photo of the mayor. On Thursday, co-editor Nick Miller said the paper had been trying for days to engage NAACP leaders in a conversation.
“We take this very seriously,” Miller said. “Our mission is aligned with the NAACP’s.”