The practice of darkening photos to discredit African American public figures has a long history. Colin Kaepernick was a recent victim of the technique when in July of 2019 the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) used a darkened photo of the former NFL player in a GOP fundraising email.
Louisiana Representative Cedric Richmond, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the NRCC knew when they used the photo that it was a "racist move intended to raise money off the fear of dark skinned people,” and was a, "deliberate act to darken him up and perpetuate the fear of darker skinned people."
"That act is racist,” Representative Richmond said.
The recall campaign has been criticized widely for lacking people of color within its ranks. Carol Polhamus, a member of the Santa Cruz United steering committee, told Good Times she has been called “lots of expletives about being racist," and "fascist,” while working for the recall.
“Truthfully that kind of stuff motivates me,” Polhamus told Good Times.
Santa Cruz United's advertisement includes a statement of support for Don Lane and Renée Golder as recall replacement candidates. (Golder herself has been the subject of discussions of racism concerning a photo of her dressed like a Native American at a party.)
Additional text over the photo of Councilmember Glover reads: "13 complaints of bullying, sexism, and harassment were filed against Krohn and Glover by female city employees," which is a reference to the Rose Report. The findings of the report, which looked into workplace misconduct complaints filed against Councilmembers Glover and Krohn in 2019, has been a big focus of the recall campaign.
The ad appears in Facebook user feeds, which allows commenting. One female Facebook user commented to ask critical questions about the allegations: "I can tell reading comments under your ads that SOME people that support your recall campaign have not read the report, hence accusations like sexual harassment have been unchecked in at least one comment. It’s good to keep the dialogue respectful and check false accusations." (see photo)
Santa Cruz United responded to the comment, admitting, "there were two violations that were “substantiated“, meaning they were witnessed and determined to be violations, 11 were “unsubstantiated “." (see photo)
Ann Simonton, the founder of Media Watch and a member of the City's Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), has spoken out against the allegations, writing that she looked into the charges of men having “harassed female City Hall employees," and found that the charges were "untrue".
Simonton further stated, "The most vital findings from our City’s leaders, and the lengthy investigation was that no charges were found to be gender based, nor did they involve sexual harassment. The only substantiated complaint against Chris Krohn was that he uttered a "laugh, scoff or snort" during a staff presentation to the Council. And the only substantiated complaint against Drew Glover is that he was "needlessly and unjustifiably antagonistic" to another Council member when she overstayed her time in a shared conference room."
"False accusations of harassing women is worrisome, as it generates an environment where survivors who experience harassment aren’t believed," Simonton wrote. "Generations of women have worked to reach the progress we are beginning to see today. It’s particularly egregious when a campaign falsely invokes mistreatment of women in order to gain political favor," she said.
Gillian Greensite, the co-founder of the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), and its first Chair, has also defended Councilmembers Glover and Krohn, stating, "The investigator found no basis for a charge of gender discrimination."
"This is dangerous stuff if you believe in justice," Greensite wrote. "By all means start by believing. But if the facts don’t support the accusation, then perhaps there was no crime committed. Innocent until proven guilty is not a tiresome technicality. To “believe women” as proof of guilt ignores the scores of black men lynched or incarcerated on false claims of rape by white women. Such tragedies are not the norm across the spectrum of rape but they exist and they counsel caution on assigning guilt based on emotion and slogans."
Santa Cruz City Councilmember Donna Meyers is one of the individuals who filed a workplace complaint against Councilmember Glover. (The specifics of the complaint is referenced in Ann Simonton's quote above.) A racially charged incident involving Meyers occurred shortly after a proposal to censure Councilmembers Chris Krohn and Drew Glover over the workplace complaints detailed in the Rose Report was tabled by a 4-3 vote at the September 24 City Council meeting. Councilmember Meyers became very angry, pounded her hand on the City Council desk in front of her, and then stood up from her seat. She paced around dramatically, and then yelled at Councilmember Glover, "I am not a racist!" and "You should never, ever call someone a racist!" Councilmember Meyers said she was referring to a Facebook post; Councilmember Glover later indicated that he wasn't sure what she was talking about.
Councilmember Meyers has recently endorsed Renée Golder as a replacement candidate for City Council in the recall election.
It is unclear who is responsible within Santa Cruz United for creating the ad with the darkened photo. According to the page transparency summary for Santa Cruz United's page on Facebook, five accounts manage it, and the ad library shows Santa Cruz United is currently running 10 active ads. A phone number linked to Dan Coughlin, Santa Cruz United's Principal Officer, is listed in the details of at least one of Santa Cruz United's Facebook ads, and financial documents filed by Santa Cruz United with the City of Santa Cruz shows the group made a payment in the amount of $900 marked "Facebook ads reimbursement" to Take Back Santa Cruz member Samantha Olden in 2019. (see photo)
Read more about the "Bad is Black" effect in Scientific American: