The Punisher symbol.Image: Marvel
Earlier this year, a group of St. Louis police officers were put on administrative leave after their racist social media posts were resurfaced, prompting the police department to launch an investigation into them. Now, the head of St. Louis’ police union is calling for its members to support their fellow cops by liking themselves to Marvel’s violent vigilante character the Punisher.
Despite the fact that Gerry Conway has expressed that it’s disturbing when people in positions of power embrace the Punisher as a symbol for their own sense of justice—and Frank Castle himself has recently gone on the record as thinking that cops who idolize him need to rethink their life choices—some police continue using the symbol.
Ed Clark, the head of St. Louis’ police union, is urging officers to use an altered version of the vigilante’s logo after 22 police officers within the union found themselves under an internal investigation. It was discovered by the Plain View Project (an initiative drawing attention to the social media posts of law enforcement officials) that they posted a variety of racist and Islamophobic remarks to their social media pages which raised serious questions. The posts are documented on Plain View Project’s site on a few individual pages. After seeing some of the posts for himself, Police Chief John W. Hayden, Jr. called them “deeply insensitive,” and insisted that the police department’s internal investigation into the officers would be “an extensive process and a competent process.”
According to a NY Daily News report, in response to the posts being unearthed, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner moved to permanently block seven of the officers in question from submitting cases to her office, while the remaining 15 were eligible to have their privileges reinstated following a deeper look into their conduct.
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“Police integrity is at the core of the community’s confidence in the criminal justice system,” Gardner said in the release. “After careful examination of the underlying bias contained in those social media posts, we have concluded that this bias would likely influence an officer’s ability to perform his or her duties in an unbiased manner.”
When reached for comment via email, a representative for the St. Louis Metropolitan Department told io9, “We do not have any further comment.” Marvel did not respond with a comment for this story at the time of publishing.
Last Wednesday evening, union head Clark took to the group’s Facebook page to upload a letter in which he claimed that the officers under review could no longer send their cases to prosecutors because they posted a variation of the Punisher logo (a “thin blue line design” seemingly meant to bring attention to the “Blue Lives Matter” belief system), and did not mention the officers’ other documented posts. Clark called the review process “political”:
The fact is, there will always be someone who finds fault with any symbol we identify with or person we choose to carry our message. The Blue Line symbol and the Blue Line Punisher symbol have been widely embraced by the law enforcement community as a symbol for the war against those who hate law enforcement. It’s how we show the world that we hold the line between good and evil.
What jumps out most immediately from Clark’s statement is how matter-of-factly he articulates his and many other cops’ misguided, and frankly alarming, belief that they should be free to wage war on people. One could argue that Clark and the other fan-cops who worship the Punisher simply don’t understand who or what the character is. In Frank Castle, it seems Clark and his peers see someone who would defend the cops under investigation, and given how the Punisher usually responds to his opponents, the message is more than chilling.
While Clark and the union cops may not want to grapple with reality over fiction, Police Chief Hayden made it abundantly clear in a letter of his own why the officers are being looked into and stated that the Punisher in no way represents the police force’s express mission of protecting the public. Here is a portion of his public statement:
As law enforcement officers, our fundamental responsibility is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality and justice. This is the oath we all took.
Although fictional in nature, the Punisher logo does not coincide with our mission to protect life and property and achieve a peaceful society…Undeniably, the recent social media coverage impacts our community relations, our potential ability to protect your integrity, and forces us all to work harder to build and mend relationships. While social media can be an asset in continuing relations with family, friends and colleagues, we all must remain cognizant of the messages certain posts may send and the interpretation the community may have of them.
What Hayden is saying is rather obvious, but apparently, it needs to be repeated: When police officer slap on the Punisher’s logo, they aren’t just stating that they’re fans or that they look up to Frank Castle. The message they’re sending says that they want the public to see them the same way civilians see the Punisher—as lethal people armed to the teeth who have no qualms about shooting first because they’re certain they’re in the right.
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