Middletown NAACP raises concern over police officer’s social media photos

The Middletown Area MAACP unit raised concerns to Middletown City Council about some photographs on a social media page of a Middletown police officer that could be interpreted as a hate hand gesture.  FILE PHOTO
The Middletown Area MAACP unit raised concerns to Middletown City Council about some photographs on a social media page of a Middletown police officer that could be interpreted as a hate hand gesture. FILE PHOTO

Middletown’s NAACP president raised concerns about social media photos of a veteran Middletown police officer at Tuesday’s Middletown City Council meeting.

The Rev. Dr. Celeste Didlick-Davis, president of the NAACP’s Middletown Area Unit, presented council with copies of the photos the officer posted. In two photos, the officer is making a gesture in the shape of an upside down “OK” sign — with the thumb and index finder in a circle and other fingers straight — which some have used as a symbol of white supremacy.

Didlick-Davis said she doesn’t want to infringe on the officer’s rights of expression but called the photos “disturbing” and said some residents are upset and concerned.

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In a letter to council and City Manager Jim Palenick, Didlick-Davis said “statements and actions have consequences, both intended and unintended.”

She wrote that the photos that were posted of the officer “were insensitive at the least and intimidating and perhaps threatening in the alternative; they display a lack of cultural sensitivity, poor decision-making especially under color of authority, i.e., a police officer is always a police officer, even when off duty.”

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She also said a lack of response to two emails sent to police Chief David Birk about the officer “is further troubling.”

Didlick-Davis said “it is obvious that additional cultural competency, sensitivity, and diversity training would be a minimum appropriate action.”

The NAACP requested the officer’s personnel file and his arrest statistics and the statistics for the entire Division of Police over the past two months.

Shelby Quinlivan, city spokeswoman, said an investigation was done last week, and the officer remains on active duty. She said the officer removed the photos from social media.

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Quinlivan declined to say whether the officer was disciplined. The Journal-News has requested the officer’s personnel file, but that was not available before deadline.

The officer started as a police officer on Nov. 27, 2007 according to city records.

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“The City of Middletown and the Division of Police are aware of photographs recently circulating on social media of a patrol officer making a hand signal that can mean ‘OK’ or ‘gotcha,’” the city administration and the Division of Police said in a statement.

“The City and the Division of Police recognize that a change in climate has occurred in this country and the symbols and signs once associated with an innocent meaning have taken on new definitions of divisiveness and hate. Organizations dedicated to the spread of intolerance and prejudice have taken the hand gesture like the one used by the Officer in question and co-opted its meaning from an innocuous greeting to a symbol of white supremacy and racism.

“This issue has been investigated internally and while there was no intention from the Officer to invoke intolerance or division with this gesture, this has been a learning opportunity for the Officer as well as the Division of Police as a whole. The photographs in question on the Officer’s personal social media page were immediately removed.

“The City and Division of Police have a respectful, ongoing relationship with the NAACP and conversations with this organization to combat injustice and intolerance will continue. Middletown Division of Police has recently added Racial Intelligence Training for the department, bringing additional education to our first responders.”

“... As an organization we have made it clear to our employees that we will not tolerate the expression of racial intolerance, divisiveness or hate, including the use or transmission of symbols associated therewith.”

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