Firefighter placed on leave after flashing ‘okay’ hand gesture deemed racist

An Alexandria, Virginia firefighter has been placed on administrative leave with pay while the department investigates a hand gesture he made during a group photograph.

Last Friday, Alexandria’s local Fox station did one of their “zip trip” segments to highlight the local fire department. During that segment, one of the firemen quickly flashed the “okay” hand gesture, which many have deemed a racist hate symbol.

“The okay hand symbol was used at part of a punching game if you flashed it. It is used by scuba divers communicating underwater. It’s also listed by the anti-defamation league as a gesture of hate, sometimes used to express white power,” anchor Stephanie Ramirez explains during the broadcast.

The Alexandria Fire Department Chief Corey Smedley told the outlet that it is not acceptable whether the gesture was meant as a joke or not.

“A joke is only if someone is not offended by it. And it’s always in the eye of the beholder. And just because someone may have thought things were a joke, it’s not something that’s up to our values within the department. So we have to first and foremost make every attempt to maintain the integrity and trust of the community, and joking is not something that’s a part of our mission,” Smedley said.

On Twitter, the union that represents Alexandria firefighters released a statement.

“IAFF Local 2141 is a diverse and inclusive workforce and union that works to promote an equitable and inclusive work environment. We hold ALL  of our members to the high personal conduct standard that the Alexandria community both expect and deserve,” the statement read.

“IAFF Local 2141 has a zero tolerance policy towards any actions that can be interpreted as racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic, or pro-violent.  There is no room for any public servant to act in a way that can be interpreted as an attack on any member of our community,” the statement continued.

“We are currently investigating the actions of this employee, and will act swiftly upon determining his intent,” the statement added.

The Independent Chronicle was unable to reach the firefighter for comment as he has not yet been identified. The Department did not immediately respond to our request for comment.