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Fire chief to probe whether hand gesture in photo was racist

January 18, 2020 GMT

WATERVILLE, Maine (AP) — The intent behind a hand gesture associated with white supremacy that a firefighter appeared to make in a recent photo will be investigated, the department’s fire chief said.

The official Waterville Fire Department photo featuring the entire crew was uploaded to the department’s Facebook page Tuesday, the Bangor Daily News reported.

The newspaper reached out to the department about the possible “white power” gesture made by one firefighter, similar to the OK sign, which the Anti-Defamation League said has been appropriated as a signal for white supremacy. The department removed the photo from Facebook on Thursday evening.

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Waterville Fire Chief Shawn Esler as of Thursday evening said he had not seen the photo but called the possibility of a department firefighter using a racist symbol “completely unacceptable in the view of public safety, or the view of the city of Waterville.”

In 2018, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended an officer who appeared to be making the hand sign during a Hurricane Florence television broadcast. A recent probe by the Army and Navy found that a hand gesture flashed by West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen during the televised Army-Navy football game were not racist signals. Officials said the students were participating in a “circle game” in which someone flashes an upside-down OK sign below the waist and punches anyone who looks at it.