Internal investigator, police shrug at meme sent by cop to fellow officers

·3 min read

Sep. 4—After a Manchester officer reported concerns about another officer's sharing of a meme making light of George Floyd's murder, internal investigators and police supervisors said they thought the action was racially insensitive, prompting the chief to require annual training on bias and sensitivity.

But racial justice advocates say the episode remains concerning.

The 2021 incident came to light last month when police officer Christian Horn was promoted to sergeant and the Union Leader learned Horn had been suspended for several days, demoted and received sensitivity training after he shared a meme that seems to mock Floyd's murder. The Union Leader and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire submitted Right-to-Know requests for a report and related documents from the police department's professional standards investigator.

The meme was shared by Horn from his personal phone to two group text-message threads with other city police, according to documents received in response to the request. The meme showed a photo of Floyd, who was suffocated to death by police in Minneapolis in 2020, superimposed on a pink background to look like a Valentine card with the text, "You take my breath away."

After wrestling with the issue for a week, one of the officers on the group text, who is Black, reported Horn's sharing of the meme to a police captain. That officer's direct supervisor was on the chat and received the meme but did not type any message in response, so the officer gathered he would not get much support.

Horn had apologized by text to the reporting officer the same day he sent the meme, according to screenshots of texts released as part of the report, saying he hadn't thought before sharing. In texts the reporting officer sent to a colleague, which were part of the report released, the officer told another colleague that getting that meme from a work colleague really rattled him — so he decided to report the situation.

Other officers and supervisors interviewed as part of the investigation shrugged off the meme as "banter" and "dark humor," even though they "cringed" when they saw it, according to the investigator's report, and thought it was in poor taste and unprofessional. No one, including the officer who raised the issue, thought it was meant to intimidate or harass anyone.

Manchester NAACP President James McKim said after reviewing the report that the incident appeared to be insensitive, but he worried about what it showed about the culture in the police department — and how willing police are to have difficult conversations about racism and racial insensitivity in their own actions.

"That's the kind of thing that sets the culture," McKim said.

Aldenberg said supervisors did confront Horn about the meme, but they did it in-person, not on the text thread.

After the report was released to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, the ACLU's Joseph Lascaze and Ronelle Tshiela, cofounder of Black Lives Matter Manchester, said in a joint statement they thought the episode showed deep insensitivity and racist behavior.

"What is being revealed in Manchester is a police culture where officers are repeatedly comfortable with engaging in racist conduct, speech, and behavior and feel that there will apparently be little-to-no consequence for their 'jokes' and 'culturally insensitive' actions," the statement read.

Tshiela and Lascaze continued, saying it was just as concerning that police supervisors who received the meme chose to do nothing about it, and that the Black officer felt he would not have the support of his commanders.

Aldenberg said the department learned from the 2021 incident. Annual in-service training for city police was beefed up from eight hours per year to 40 when Aldenberg became chief last year, and the annual training now includes bias and sensitivity training.

Aldenberg said he had expected the investigation would become public, but said he is proud that the department took the complaint of insensitivity seriously, initiating an internal investigation and disciplining Horn.