Mpls. council's Cano won't back down on tweets

Alondra Cano
Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano represents Ward 9.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2013

Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano, who was criticized for posting correspondence and contact information on social media of people who disagreed with her, is not apologizing.

Cano says she was trying to have a conversation about racial justice when she posted images that included comments and contact information, including addresses and phone numbers, which had been sent to her by at least four critics.

"I did it out of a belief in government transparency and public discourse," Cano said. "This is not new, this is something I've done in the past, and this is actually a platform that I stand by on the City Council, and I've been very public on a lot of different issues."

Cano received the comments through an email form on the city's website last Wednesday criticizing her involvement in a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America. She posted images of at least four people's comments on her public Twitter page during the afternoon. She later removed the posts.

One of the men whose contact information was posted, Stephen Dent, said in his comment to Cano that he disagreed with the strategy of protesting at the mall and that Cano was unfit to be a Minneapolis City Council member. Dent told MPR News last week that he believed Cano was trying to shame him and other critics when she posted their correspondence and contact information.

"I think it puts a huge chill on our democratic society when we can't communicate with our elected officials ... without creating fear that those public officials will retaliate against an individual," Dent said. "It's really broken my trust in public officials and I believe she's damaged her own cause."

Redacted tweet from @People4Alondra
Ward 9 Council Member Alondra Cano posted images of at least four residents' comments on her public Twitter account, @People4Alondra.

Cano did not respond to requests for comment or post any response on Twitter immediately following the postings last week. But in an interview on Tuesday night, she denied that posting the comments was an attempt to silence critics.

"It was not my intent to put anyone in danger by any means, and this was not an attempt to punish anyone," Cano said. "But it was actually an attempt to have a public conversation about the importance of Black Lives Matter and how the public should continue to have that debate publicly without fear of having to hide your thoughts behind some rationale that doesn't make sense."

The postings elicited a backlash online from people who argued that posting personal information of people who wrote her was unethical. Others voiced objection to the Black Lives Matter movement overall. The Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial Board also weighed in on the issue, acknowledging that Cano didn't break any laws by posting the comments and contact information, but "did exercise poor judgment."

At least one ethics complaint has been filed against Cano in regards to the incident, according to a city of Minneapolis spokesperson. No other information about the complaint was publicly available.

Cano said she received harassing messages following the Twitter posts. Screenshots shared with MPR News show harassing messages that Cano was sent on Twitter using racial slurs, supporting Cano's removal from office by a militia and criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. Cano said she also received a text message from someone threatening to leak her Social Security number if she didn't apologize for posting the comments on Twitter.

Cano eventually removed the Twitter posts because she said the online backlash was distracting from the discussion on racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I'm aware of those threats, I'm trying to do my best to deal with them but I'm not going to back down," Cano said. "I don't believe I did anything wrong, I believe that I'm using the tools I've been given as an elected official to stand up for the things that we value, which are black lives, and changing the paradigm of how the United States treats black people."

Cano added that none of the people whose contact information she posted on Twitter were residents of her ward and that some may have posted inaccurate addresses. Cano said she didn't respond to the commenters directly because her office prioritizes responses for people who live in Ward 9. If they lived in her ward, she said, she would have dealt with the situation differently.

"I just can't take the time to respond to every single request that comes my way, and I tried to do my best that day, and the next day I was getting ready for my Christmas break with my family," Cano said. "If I do have time, I may respond to them via email next week, but my priority is really to serve the constituents of the 9th ward."

Differences in how people of different ages use social media could account for some of the backlash she received, Cano said. But she said it's also partly due to how state law treats public information, including correspondence with elected officials.

"If anything, I think this serves as a lesson for folks to realize that what you do send to your council members could end up on the front page of the newspaper the next day," Cano said.

State law says that "correspondence between individuals and elected officials is private data on individuals, but may be made public by either the sender or the recipient."

Last week's planned protest at the Mall of America has been described as a decoy by Black Lives Matter organizers. Many protesters took light rail trains to an action at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport instead, where they briefly blocked traffic. About a dozen protesters were arrested throughout the day of actions.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.