The story of the Geneva police officer who shared racist images publicly on his Facebook page…images that were then shared as a collage across social media…was first reported here on Geneva Believer before being picked up the next day by local and regional media outlets. While Geneva City Manager Matt Horn and Geneva Police Chief each released statements strongly condemning the officer’s actions, some social media commenters are claiming that Officer Yancey’s First Amendment rights were violated, and that he should not be disciplined by the police department for his personal beliefs.
However, public employees like police officers can be disciplined or even fired for statements they make as a private citizen, if their employer decides that it reflects negatively on the employer, or if it hinders the employee’s ability to do their job.
Yancey’s social media posts reflected a bias that is inconsistent with what is expected from a police officer who routinely interacts with people of color (over 20% of the city’s population) and non-English-speaking citizens.
Code Of Ethics Violation
In October 1957, the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics stands as a preface to the mission and commitment law enforcement agencies make to the public they serve.
The Geneva Police Department uses the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, which includes the following sentence at the beginning of the second paragraph:
I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency.
It would be assumed that posting racist memes on social media would not be considered keeping one’s “private life unsullied.”
Charleston Church Shooting: Odd Timing?
On June 17th, 2015, during evening Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, a 21-year old white supremacist named Dylann Roof murdered nine African-Americans with a handgun. Within days, photos of Roof displaying the Confederate flag were discovered and spread in the media, and soon, South Carolina’s government began discussing the eventual removal of the flag from their statehouse grounds.
On July 30th, national media was awash with the news that the Ku Klux Klan had been approved to hold a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, SC to protest the removal of the Confederate flag.
The next day, Officer Yancey changed his profile picture on Facebook to a Confederate flag image.
Community Meeting Scheduled
Tools for Social Change, based in Geneva, is hosting a community meeting on Tuesday September 19 at 6:00pm at the Geneva Public Library.
Tools for Social Change stands with everyone in our community who is speaking up and speaking out against racism. In recognition of public shock over racist posts by a city officer, we will host a community meeting to address the issue. This session aims to give us all an opportunity to speak, be heard and develop solutions.
More information can be found here:
Correction: The original version of this article misidentified a Geneva resident as a Geneva Police officer. We deeply regret the error and any confusion it may have caused.