A British police officer has been charged with a criminal offence for allegedly sharing a “grossly offensive” meme of George Floyd in a private message group with other officers.
Sergeant Geraint Jones, 47, of the Devon and Cornwall police force, is alleged to have shared the meme on a WhatsApp group with his fellow officers five days after Mr Floyd died during a police interaction in America last year.
The left-wing British newspaper The Guardian reported that another white officer on the police force reported the George Floyd meme to his superiors two days after it was shared.
Sergeant Jones is facing prosecution under Section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act, which criminalises sending messages that are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.” The officer is due to appear in court on January 28th.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), said: “An altered image of George Floyd’s arrest in Minneapolis was shared within a WhatsApp group that included a number of other police officers and staff.
“Our investigation began in June 2020 following a referral from the force. At its conclusion in October we sent our investigation report to the Crown Prosecution Service, which has authorised the charge.”
The IOPC also said that it has opened investigations into other officers who allegedly received the supposedly offensive meme. The other officers face potential disciplinary action as well, however the findings from the watchdog will not be revealed until the conclusion of the criminal case against Jones.
After the criminal investigation became public in June, assistant chief constable for the Devon and Cornwall police force, Jim Nye, said: “Devon and Cornwall police wholly appreciate the concern our communities will have regarding an investigation of this kind. I would reassure them that I, and the chief constable, will do everything possible to ensure the matter is dealt with effectively and in a timely manner.”
Catrin Evans of the IOPC added: “It will be of considerable public concern that such an image was apparently shared among colleagues by a serving police officer.”
Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution or first amendment-style protections against charges of so-called “hate speech”.
In 2017, a freedom of information request revealed that some 3,395 people were arrested the previous year for violations of section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Aside from barring “grossly offensive” messages, the act also prohibits Britons from intentionally causing “annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another.”
The death of Mr Floyd in May of last year sparked nationwide protests and riots in the United States. The international furore spread to Britain as well, with widespread targeting of British historical statues and violent clashes in London.
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