Starkville police department responds to controversial photo

All it takes is one push of a button for a photo to be shared dozens of times online.

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – Starkville Police spent much of the day trying to clean up after a social media post.

A group photograph, posted across social platforms by the department, showed a uniformed officer making a gesture that some people view as a signal of white supremacy.

And she finds city officials are urging folks to think before they post.

“Certain things, certain gestures, and certain wording can be sensitive to the community,” said Captain Michael Edwards, with the Starkville Police Department.

All it takes is one push of a button for a photo to be shared dozens of times online.

Edwards says it was around 4:30 pm on Thursday when he learned an officer held what was considered to be a racist hand gesture.

Earlier Thursday night, Starkville Police officers took a photo during the monthly “Coffee with a Cop” event.

Just before the camera captured the picture, two officers, made an “OK” signal with their hands.

We immediately looked into it. After talking with the officer, we got the indication that the gesture was a game called the circle game. Several officers within the department of different backgrounds played the game. She advised by all means it doesn’t have anything to do with a hate crime hand gesture, ”Edwards said.

The posts have since been deleted.

So, what does the “OK” sign actually mean? This symbol can also be used to reference white supremacy.

”It can be sensitive to the department itself. It’s important that we teach and that we educate, we reiterate things that can be taken out of content and that’s definitely not our position. We want the community to bridge the gap with the police department, ”Edwards said.

Brandy Johnson, who allegedly displayed the gesture, released a statement.

It reads ”I’m sorry for anyone who took offense to the picture posted of me. It was not my intent in any way. My ignorance of today’s social climate and lack of awareness has led to this misunderstanding. I in no way knew what I was doing was connected to anything hateful. I knew of it as a game and nothing else, and for that I am sorry, ”said Johnson.

Oktibbeha County NAACP President Yolanda Haddix says it’s vital for people to know how hurtful symbols can impact the community.

“I spoke with Brandy and the police department about understanding culturally sensitive signs and symbols or just understanding things that are culturally sensitive to different groups of people,” Yolanda Haddix said.

Mayor Lynn Spruill says public figures can learn from this situation.

”I want this to be a place where people feel safe and inclusive. This is just an incredibly unfortunate situation and particularly on her way out the door. She was a good animal control officer, ”said Spruill.

”All city employees should exemplify, reveal and reflect the highest level of professional. Our employees should have the best demeanor, the highest level of character, reputation and integrity, ”said Vice Mayor Roy Perkins.

The sensitivity of this matter is not only the community, it’s us too. We’ll look into something that might help for the future, ”Edwards said.

The photograph was taken on the officer’s final day with the police department.