In a case that has sparked significant debate about the use of anti-racist legislation, a Black man has been acquitted of hate crime charges after sending a raccoon emoji to a prospective Conservative MP on social media. This case has raised concerns about the potential misuse of such laws against ethnic minority groups.

The incident began when the man, then 26 years old, was reported to the police by Ben Obese-Jecty, who is of mixed Black and white heritage. The report was made after the man posted a raccoon emoji on X (formerly known as Twitter) during a heated exchange with Obese-Jecty, the prospective MP for Huntingdon, in September 2022. The exchange included the man posting both a clown and raccoon emoji.

The term ‘c**n’ is an intra-communal insult among Black and Asian people, implying that the person is brown on the outside but white on the inside. This derogatory term suggests sympathy with white supremacist agendas. Following the police complaint, the man faced charges of racially aggravated malicious communications and appeared in Wood Green Crown Court in February. A jury, composed mainly of white members, returned a ‘not guilty’ verdict after a three-day trial.

The man was represented by Achom and Partners law firm. His solicitor confirmed that the case’s outcome was based on the man’s explanation that he intended to type ‘clown’ and playfully added a raccoon emoji. Despite this, the man endured significant hardship during the investigation, including job losses, a house raid, a 10-hour detention, and the seizure of his phone.

The incident began when Mr. Obese-Jecty tweeted about the killing of rapper Chris Kaba by a Metropolitan Police officer. In his tweet, Obese-Jecty described politicians and commentators protesting the killing as “hysterical.” The man responded to this tweet with a comment and the contentious emojis.

Obese-Jecty argued that the raccoon emoji was a shorthand version of calling a person of color a “c**n,” a grossly offensive racial slur. Despite the suspect being Black, Obese-Jecty maintained that the emoji was deeply offensive.

Nels Abbey, an author who attended the trial to support the family, criticized the handling of the case, calling it “the British justice system at its most alarmingly incompetent and culturally confused.” Abbey, author of “Think Like A White Man” and “The Hip Hop MBA,” stated that the ordeal represented a potential miscarriage of justice that nearly ruined the young man’s life and left him battling depression.

The prosecutor in the case argued that the word ‘c**n’ is offensive regardless of who uses it, comparing it to the word ‘n****er’. The man, however, defended his use of the term on the stand, arguing that within the Black community, such terms are not universally offensive and can be used to make political critiques.

Professor Kehinde Andrews, Britain’s first Black studies undergraduate director at Birmingham City University, has commented that scrutiny and prosecutions around the use of terms like “coconut” have increased since the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020. This case, often referred to as the “Emoji trial,” highlights the complexities and cultural nuances that come into play with anti-racist legislation.

Ben Obese-Jecty and the Met Police were approached for comment. A Met Police spokesperson confirmed that in September 2022, they received a report of malicious communications via Twitter, with the report involving a tweet featuring an emoji believed to be a racial slur.

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