Once the sentiment of surprise gave way following Andrew Gillum‘s questionable hotel incident earlier this month, people took to social media to express their dismay at what could be the end of a promising career in politics for the 40-year-old former mayor of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city. For some, that sense of chagrin would ultimately give way to feelings of anger. “How could he do that to his wife and children?” some people asked openly while admittedly not knowing the entire truth of what exactly unfolded in the Mondrian Hotel in Miami Beach on the morning of March 13.
What followed was an onslaught of news coverage that left some critics feeling uncomfortable with Gillum’s portrayal as a philandering substance abuser as opposed to a very real human who admittedly had some personal struggles following a high profile close loss in Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial election. It didn’t help that the aforementioned narrative had been fueled in part by Black conservatives looking to further endear themselves to the white power structure they have readily subscribed to.
It was precisely that type of news coverage that prompted the penning of an open letter to Gillum, Black men and the media in an effort to encourage support for the former mayor and his family and at the same time “be our Brother’s keeper and be the change in which we seek.” No one is “irredeemable,” wrote Preston Mitchum and Michael Seaberry in the open letter that they published on Monday afternoon and invited other Black men to sign.
The letter came two days after explicit images purportedly from inside the hotel room showed a nude man resembling Gillum lying on the floor with his head on a pillow next to what looked to be vomit. Conservative tabloid the Daily Mail followed that by publishing photos it also said were from inside the hotel room showing the alleged drugs that emergency responders said they found after arriving.
The initial coverage was shocking enough when a breaking news report from the Miami New Times on March 13 carried the headline: “Andrew Gillum Involved in Alleged Crystal-Meth Incident in Miami Beach.” That was quickly followed by conservatives claiming without proof that Gillum and two other men inside the room at the time when authorities responded to a call about a possible overdose were participating in an alleged drug-fueled sexual tryst. That, in turn, prompted Gillum to quickly release a statement apologizing for his behavior, which he blamed on drinking too much. But by the end of the week, the graphic photos were made public.
Mitchum, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown Law Center who describes himself as “an unapologetically Black and queer civil rights advocate, public speaker, writer, and professor, told NewsOne in an email Monday night that “all media has a role to play.” But, he cautioned, “White mainstream media, in particular, must be careful in how it displays Black people and our bodies and isn’t something they are often forced to do.”
Seaberry, a high school science teacher and advisor in Clayton County, Georgia, and Mitchum also used the letter to appeal to Black men to be more supportive of each other in their times of need.
“Fellow Black men, allow this letter to be a reminder that we, too, must be allowed the space to explore, mess up, reevaluate ourselves and become anew,” the letter earnestly says in part. “Unfortunately, the world often decides our fate based upon our trials, while white men are regularly afforded myriad opportunities and space to ‘fail.’ Failure often backed by a system that protects them and incentivizes this dangerous cycle. We have the power to change that.”
Later, the portion of the letter reserved for the media held no punches.
“We should not be shocked that you, the media, would fetishize a Black life for clickbait, likes, and shares — for anything,” the letter says in part. “Black life, in moments of pain and terror, has long been delectable to the American palette.”
While acknowledging that Gillum’s incident was newsworthy because he is a public figure, the letter argued that coverage should not be done in such a “salacious way and the terrorizing of Black life must not be the primary entrée. Sharing photos of Mayor Gillum’s naked body, especially in such a vulnerable state, is inexcusable and triggering to a community that has seen our own bodies fetishized and/or slain across the nation, from the lynching tree to Main Street. Quite frankly, we are sick of seeing Black bodies become a call-to-fame and the subject of your headlines.”
NewsOne has chosen not to post any photos purportedly of Gillum from inside the hotel room.
At the end of the day, Gillum — the chairman of Forward Florida Action, a political group working to register voters so as to elect more diverse officials — was a rising star within the Democratic Party who was rumored to be on a shortlist for possible vice presidential candidates. He had President Barack Obama campaign with him in 2018. He was making a name for himself as a shrewd political pundit on CNN. There were even rumblings that he might be considering a presidential run of his own.
All of that ended in a split instant on March 13.
The incident at the Miami Beach hotel was indeed newsworthy based on those facts alone. However, as the letter states, that is still no reason to try to humiliate someone and capitalize on their resulting vulnerability for doing something that only he and the two other men in the hotel room know what really happened.
In the meantime, local authorities have announced they are reviewing how the police report and photos leaked to the media — the lone potential criminal investigation associated with the incident that cops decided against any charges for Gillum and the other men inside the hotel room.
Black men, in particular, are encouraged to read the open letter and sign it to support Gillum and other Black men.
To read the full open letter, click here.