‘Insensitive and racist’ political ad pulled by Silicon Valley chamber of commerce

Don Sweeney
·3 min read

A political ad depicting Black men rioting in an unnamed city, called “insensitive and racist” by its own backers, has roiled a California city council race.

Condemned by the local NAACP, the ad — now removed — has prompted resignations from the Silicon Valley Organization’s board and the resignation of its CEO.

The organization, a business advocacy group similar to a chamber of commerce, posted the ad on its site earlier this week, with the words “Do you really want to sign on to this?” over the image of street violence, KNTV reported.

The ad uses a photo published online in 2018 by South African photographer Pawel Janiak, The Mercury News reports. It’s not clear where or when the photo was taken.

The ad targeted San Jose City Council candidate Jake Tonkel, whom the Silicon Valley Organization accuses of seeking to defund police, KPIX reported.

After an immediate outcry, the organization on Tuesday removed the ad and posted an apology on Facebook.

“A web administrator posted a picture to our website that was insensitive and racist,” the Facebook post reads. “We apologize sincerely for the error and the pain we know the image may have caused those who saw it.”

The apology says the post was intended to illustrate the consequences of cuts to police funding, “but the image chosen was offensive and should not have been posted.”

Tonkel’s campaign website calls for a shift to community-based policing with greater accountability and more balanced budgeting for all city services.

“Their whole point was to try and scare people with racist undertones and try to stoke that fear within our community. in order to manipulate the outcome of an election,” Tonkel said, KPIX reported.

On Wednesday, three Silicon Valley Organization board members resigned in protest of the ad and the group put CEO Matt Mahood on administrative leave, KPIX reported.

Mahood later resigned, KRON reported. Mahood said he was “very sorry for the completely unacceptable image that was put up on our website earlier this week.” He said he was not aware of the image being posted but was ultimately responsible as head of the organization.

Before taking his Silicon Valley position in 2011, Mahood served as CEO of he Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce for nine years.

The Silicon Valley NAACP had called for Mahood’s dismissal over the ad, KNTV reported.

“Words and images are powerful, and they can be warped, and they can be deceptive,” said NAACP member Elizabeth Kamya, according to the station. “And the last thing I want is for people to be deceived into thinking that low-income families are going to hurt them or that Black people are dangerous.”

The Silicon Valley Organization pledged to hire a third-party investigator to determine how the ad came to be posted and develop policies to prevent further incidents, The Mercury News reported.

“We are horrified by this image as it does not represent the values of the organization, the leadership, the Board of Directors or our members,” said Executive Vice President Madison Nguyen, according to the publication. “For that, we apologize.”

Tonkel’s opponent, Dev Davis — who is backed by the Silicon Valley Organization — denounced the ad and donated the money from the organization to the NAACP, KPIX reported.

The Silicon Valley Organization also came under fire in an earlier election for darkening photos of two Latino council candidates in political ads, The Mercury News reported.

“Everyone is sick and tired of the SVO doing this,” said Rev. Jeff Moore, according to the publication. “People are starting to see the trend of the SVO and its racist behavior, and it’s all under the same leadership. We are not going to tolerate this from any leaders in the city of San Jose. They need to go.”