A U.S. Coast Guard officer who was caught flashing a white supremacist hand signal on live TV has received the lightest of punishments, according to a new report. The punishment for upholding racist ideals while being an enlisted member of the U.S. armed forces? He was scolded.
The announcement this week that the still unidentified officer got the lightest of slaps on the wrist for committing the brazen act of racism in September came at a time when the Coast Guard Academy was under intense scrutiny for “racism and equity” when it came to Black members.
The Coast Guard member was “reprimanded for intentionally flashing a hand gesture he knew is associated with white supremacy on live TV during a hurricane last year,” the State reported Thursday. He was also “removed from the emergency response team,” according to the Associated Press.
The offending officer can be seen flashing the sign in the video below.
But perhaps the larger point being missed here by the Coast Guard was the fact that it allowed the person to not only remain among its ranks but also remain an officer. The Coast Guard’s vague code of conduct and ethics states that “violations may result in prosecution under USMJ,” or the Uniform Code of Military Justice, “as well as adverse administrative action.”
That made the officer’s weak punishment seem to fall in line with a statement from a Coast Guard spokesman.
“His actions will be reflected in his annual officer evaluation report, which is a document that is a primary consideration in future promotion panels or career opportunities that the member may apply for or be subject to in the Coast Guard,” Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Kelley told the State.
Still, not kicking the officer out of the Coast Guard or at least demoting him could send a bad signal to its Black members, and “cadets, in particular, [who] have been raising concerns about off-color jokes, disparities in discipline and the administration’s handling of what some see as racial hostility,” according to a report from the AP in June. “Episodes have included a white cadet playing the song “If the South Woulda Won” in a black cadet’s room and an instructor’s use of a racial slur to get cadets’ attention for a presentation cracking down on the widespread, casual use of such epithets,” the AP’s report continued.
These recent incidents mirrored a reported larger trend of racism in the U.S. military.
Considering that very recent past, it the Coast Guard may want to rethink the light punishment it gave the offending officer unless it wants what has become a PR nightmare to continue. The Coast Guard might even want to take a cue from the head of the U.S. Air Force Academy, who in 2017 told racist cadets to “get out” of the academy if they can’t treat their fellow cadets with “dignity and respect.”