Jasper, AL – Four Jasper police officers have been suspended without pay after they made a circular “okay” hand gesture in a photograph that appeared in a local newspaper.
Jasper Mayor David O’Mary said that some people claimed the gesture was a racist symbol for “white power,” WBMA reported.
The photo was intended as a way to recognize the Jasper drug terrorism task force officers’ hard work in connection with a recent gun and narcotics bust in the area, said Mayor O’Mary, who had arranged to have the image taken.
After the photo was published in the Daily Mountain Eagle, some people complained that the four Jasper officers were making a racist hand gesture.
The officers were actually following a viral trend known as the "circle game" where the goal is to make somebody look at your hand making the OK sign below waist level.
"It's a kid game. Going around and hitting everybody when you see it," one Jasper resident told WBMA immediately after viewing the photo.
The myth that the OK sign actually meant "white power" was started by internet trolls on 4chan, an anonymous message board, in February of 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“We must flood twitter and other social media websites with spam, claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy,” the anonymous poster wrote, according to ADL, a civil rights organization. “Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy. We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s--t.”
Users encouraged people to perpetuate the hoax using hashtags such as # PowerHandPrivilege and # NotOkay, created fake social media and email accounts, and bombarded journalists and civil rights organizations with the misinformation.
Mayor O’Mary said he had not spoken to any of the four Jasper officers regarding what they meant by the gesture, WBMA reported.
They have been suspended for two weeks, and one week of the suspension period will be without pay.
He said that all four of the officers had “perfect” records prior to this incident, and that he would have likely imposed harsher punishment if their histories with the department weren’t so exemplary.
“That's contradictory to how we run our city. That's not our mindset. That's not the way we do things and they used poor judgement,” the mayor said.
"We talked to two senior African-American law enforcement officers that are on the City of Jasper's payroll and they think it's fair and that's a pretty good sounding board,” he added.