A regional daily editor has defended a story about a policeman posing with a watermelon on his head amid criticism from both the officer’s force and readers.
PC Ifor Williams posted a picture of himself on Facebook dressed as a watermelon, using a Snapchat filter which allows users to photograph themselves in hundreds of different poses ranging from daffodils to dogs.
The Bristol Post then ran a story about equalities campaigner Lawrence Hoo criticising PC Williams on the grounds that watermelons are viewed by seen by some black people as a historically offensive insult.
However, the Post has since been inundated with negative readers’ comments, with one even accusing the paper of being insensitive for running the piece on the day after the Westminster terror attack, in which police officer Keith Palmer was killed.
Avon & Somerset Police has also accused the newspaper of not allowing it to respond to the story.
He wrote: “I am the person who made the decision to print the story. And I stand by it. And here’s why. Firstly, I cannot understand why every commenter seems to think that because we have published this story we agree with the complainant. We don’t. We are merely reporting on his complaint.
“For me, that complaint is relevant in the context of a rising number of – often controversial – accusations of what’s become known as cultural misappropriation. From canteen food to hairstyles, ethnic pressure groups seem to be becoming more sensitive about how white people adopt their cultural references without understanding the history behind them.
“As I said, their allegations are often controversial – as the reaction to this story shows. Secondly, I may not personally agree with Mr Hoo but I absolutely respect his right to his opinion. And he has a point. A police officer whose beat is in an area where more than one in five people is black should know that watermelons have been used to ridicule black people.
“It’s not a tenuous link, it’s well documented. After the American Civil War, free black people grew and sold watermelons. Threatened by their new-found freedom, racist whites used the fruit as a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness and laziness.”
Mike added that Mr Hoo was “not making something out of nothing”, and that PC Williams had caused offence despite the fact he “obviously had no intention to offend anyone”.
He continued: “Finally, I take great exception to the allegation that we should not have run this story after the tragic events outside parliament on Wednesday.
“I am well aware of the bravery and dedication of our police force. We write far more praiseworthy stories about the police than we do stories which could be considered as critical.
“Two weeks ago, I was at police HQ with the Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner judging this year’s police awards, which I will be presenting in May. But the police also receive criticism. And, sometimes, we can’t ignore it.”