Free speech supporters in the UK are questioning the judicial system and are shocked that a police officer is facing trial for sharing a meme at the same time when another officer has just been let off without a prison sentence for attacking a lone woman as she walked home at night.
A police sergeant in the UK who shared a “grossly offensive” George Floyd meme with friends and colleagues told the court the meme was meant for “cheap laugh” not to offend anyone. But the prosecution argues that the meme was shared at time that it would have offended the black community, even though the meme was shared into a private WhatsApp group.
Less than a week after George Floyd’s death, 47-year-old Geraint Jones, a Devon and Cornwall Police custody sergeant, shared a photoshopped image where a naked image of popular meme figure Wardy Joubert III replaced the officer that arrested Floyd.
Jones was sent the meme by a friend and he forwarded it to a WhatsApp group containing nine members; him, six other police officers and two other friends.
Two members responding with laughing emojis. However, one member complained.
Jones was then reported to the professional standard’s department. Following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Jones, who has been in law enforcement for over two decades, was charged with sending a grossly offensive image, an action that allegedly violates the Communications Act 2003.
Jones denies the charge, insisting he shared the meme for its humor. In the court hearing on Friday, Jones argued the naked image of Joubert features in many other memes, including memes featuring the late Captain Sir Tom Moore and President Donald Trump.
“I knew that meme was going viral at the time and they had seen it in various shapes and forms,” Jones told the court. “I saw the comedy of it because I found the character amusing and where he turns up.
“Maybe I was after a cheap laugh or trying to raise a smile. I didn’t think about it deeply and I didn’t look at the image in detail.”
He also said that the racial angle of the meme has “never even entered my mind.”
“I never envisioned that I would end up in court. I know that there must be tens of thousands of people who have shared it thinking it’s humorous, probably hundreds of thousands. We don’t want to run the risk of criminalizing all those people,” he added.
The prosecution argues that he should have known that the image would offend people, especially the black community.
“The prosecution case is that such an image, sent at the time that it was, was liable to cause gross offence, namely to those in the black and ethnic minority community,” said Lee Bainbridge, the prosecutor in the case.
The court will deliver its verdict in April.