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Oregon State Police Deny Trooper Flashed Racist Symbol

After a video went viral which showed an OSP trooper making the "OK" hand signal, OSP released a statement denying the gesture was made in reference to "white power," saying the trooper was checking on the status of a man who had been pushed down.
After a video went viral which showed an OSP trooper making the "OK" hand signal, OSP released a statement denying the gesture was made in reference to "white power," saying the trooper was checking on the status of a man who had been pushed down.

The move comes after a viral video showed an OSP trooper making the “OK” hand signal —  touching the thumb and index finger to make a circle, with the remaining three fingers pointing outward — toward a counter-protester.

In recent years, the symbol has been appropriated to signal “white power.” The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, added the “Okay” symbol to its “Hate on Display” database last fall, associating the symbol with white supremacy and the far right.

The Clypian reported the video began circulating Saturday afternoon in Salem community organizing groups and on Twitter. It has since garnered national attention.

Following a review of the trooper’s body camera footage, OSP refuted that the trooper made the signal that “some could interpret as racist or sympathizing with racist ideology.” In the footage, a man wearing a “Black Bikes Matter” shirt seen chanting “All Lives Matter” is knocked to the ground by a protester. The man then stands up and has an interaction with OSP troopers, saying that he’s fine.

Police said the trooper “was simply checking on the man’s status,” asking if the man was unharmed while displaying the hand signal commonly associated with "okay.” 

While the symbol's alternate meaning has its roots as an online hoax, white nationalists have increasingly begun using it to signal their presence, due to its being “a gesture so widely used that virtually anyone has plausible deniability built into their use of it in the first place,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Police said that the best available evidence shows the man pushed down was the victim of a crime. The man who allegedly pushed him, Christopher Davis, 50, of Salem was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and harassment.

“OSP condemns all racist behaviors and does not allow white supremacist behaviors by our officers and staff. ... The OSP Trooper identified in the video did not engage in any white supremacy behavior, implicitly or explicitly,” the statement read. 

“We appreciate that the public would be concerned and rightfully outraged if an OSP trooper were to flash an offensive gesture. We would share in that outrage and concern. In this instance, we would ask the public await the complete information before condemning a trooper with an irreparable and harmful label.”

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Donald Orr is a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He was a news production assistant for OPB through the Emerging Northwest Journalists Internship created by AAJA-Portland and the Society for Professional Journalists Oregon. He is an alum of NPR’s Next Generation Radio.