DOWNTOWN – A “doubling down” by the local police union on the use of a symbol many find to be tasteless, and maybe even racist, is now making national headlines.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association, the union that represents the majority of city officers, has asked its members to post the image of the comic book character the Punisher on their social media accounts and has made the image the profile picture on the union’s Facebook account.
The trouble is, the Punisher is a violent, vigilante comic book character, and many people view officers’ posting it as a commentary about their relationship with the residents of the areas the officers patrol.
The use of the image came up when the Plain View Project exposed dozens of current and former St. Louis officers who had posted racist comments on their social media accounts. MetroSTL.com was the first to report the story in St. Louis. The police department initiated an internal affairs investigation into many of the officers, and that probe is still underway. But instead of distancing itself from the Punisher image mentioned specifically in the investigation, the union has embraced it.
Union president Ed Clark said the Punisher symbol had “been widely embraced by the law enforcement community as a symbol of the war against those who hate law enforcement.”
In a letter the union posted on its Facebook page, Clark goes on to say that the blue line symbol, and the use of it with the vigilante character, were positives.
“It’s how we show the world that we hold the line between good and evil.”
Publications from the New York Daily News to comicbook.com have now picked up on the story, and the coverage is not flattering for St. Louis or its police department.
The Daily News goes so far as to quote the creator of the Punisher comic book series, who says his character is meant to symbolize everything that is wrong with law enforcement.
“Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw,” Gerry Conway told Syfy Wire in an interview published in January. “Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Police Chief John Hayden has sent a memo to officers. He does not order them to stay away from the symbol, but he makes it clear he doesn’t like it.
“We must all be cognizant of the messages certain posts may send and the interpretation the community may have of them,” Hayden said in the memo.