by Will James
On June 24 of this year, with riots engulfing cities and the “Defund the Police” movement in full swing, a Cincinnati City Council meeting was in session. The purpose of the meeting: whether or not to cut funding for the Hamilton County Police Department. As residents came to speak on behalf of the “defund movement,” the police were called out in full force. Noise began to fill the hallway due to the disproportionate number of people lodged in the council building’s small space. One security guard began to get overwhelmed with trying to calm everyone, so he was replaced by a couple of local Cincinnati police officers. When one officer asked another how the security guard was doing, he responded by flashing an “ok” symbol. This hand gesture incited a few individuals who saw it and believed what they had just seen was a gesture of white supremacy. Witnesses took to social media and other news sources to declare that the officer had expressed a “white power” symbol. They claimed that it was aimed mainly at black protestors in a meeting to decide whether or not to defund the police.
What followed this instance was a wave of harassment and slander. The officer is now forced to go by “M.R.” to protect his true identity. The officer has now filed a lawsuit. What started as a reasonable meeting to discuss public safety funding has now turned into hysteria and brazen defamation. In these times, it is not shocking that someone was vilified online, but it doesn’t mean that the victims have to accept it; at this moment, M.R. is justly fighting back.
The officer, in this case, has every right to sue. In this lawsuit (Julie Niesen, James Noe, Terhas White, and Alissa Gilley) made unfounded and horrendous accusations of racism on social media following the incident. One even filed a complaint with the Citizen Complaint Authority. All of this was simply to declare that the officer had expressed a “white power” symbol aimed mainly at black protestors.
The “ok” symbol goes back to 1839, where the editor of the Boston Morning Post published a satirical article in which he coined the term “ok” to mean “all correct simply,” or “it shall be done” according to journalist Arika Okrent from The Week. It has since evolved through the centuries to mean many sayings, but all similar in meaning. The gesture is one of the few symbols that is universally used by all American demographics.
But it has taken on a new form in a previous couple of years. With the almost never-ending cafeteria food fight engulfing most social media and internet politics, the symbol has taken on a new form between members of the alt-right and social justice advocates. Some self-proclaimed white supremacist groups have adopted this, the thumb touching the index finger, to represent white power. According to a 2019 NPR report, the “ok” sign into the list of symbols known as “hate on display.”
However, who really knew that? A political junkie like myself had never heard this until now. To believe that a veteran police officer was only using a universally understood gesture, during a moment when too much noise was consuming the halls. The police had to communicate in a situation that was spiraling out of control. This explanation is perfectly reasonable, and a much more likely explanation.
Julie Niesen, a professional journalist, member of the National Writers Union, and the primary defendant asserted that this was a definite racist sign. She did not even investigate the circumstances and the officer’s background. Her actions were entirely irresponsible. She has five years of experience working at a local news station in Cincinnati. She knows the protocol for reporting and how to manage the reliability of stories. She should absolutely be sued for this malpractice of journalism known as libel. The fact that she published defamatory material against this officer without fact-checking what she did is an insult to the profession. It is forcing her to face the consequences of her action. Ohio statute on defamation law allows for him to sue due to her actions.
Had the defendants taken the time to interview witnesses and investigate the officer involved in the incident, they would have justified publishing their conclusions. Also, Terhas White would have been morally justified in approaching the Citizens Complaint Authority and filing a grievance. White supremacy, and any trace of its existence, should not be allowed in any police force. Police officers should be held to a higher standard than citizens. However, the price that officer “M.R.” had to pay because a universal hand signal is beyond absurd; it is unamerican, un-journalistic, and downright slanderous.
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