St. Louis, MO – The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association (SLPOA) has encouraged the city’s officers to post images of the “Blue Line Punisher” on their social media pages to express their support for 22 officers who are under investigation for posting similar images online.
SLPOA President Ed Clark addressed the issue in a letter posted to Facebook on Wednesday.
“As most of you are aware some of our fellow officers are under [internal] investigation and have been placed on the Circuit Attorneys exclusion list for merely posting a pro-police image of ‘Blue Line Punisher Symbol,’” Clark wrote.
He said that taking such action against officers is “wrong,” and noted that “the officers involved have long standing records of exemplary service to the community.”
“Their reputation has been damaged for merely their choice of a pro-police symbol on Facebook,” he added.
Although the Punisher logo is associated with the Marvel comic character of the same name, for law enforcement officers and the military it serves as a morale symbol that's otherwise unrelated to the anti-hero comic character.
“The [St. Louis Police Department] made a political decision to open an investigation after a complaint that the symbol was offensive and depicted vigilantism,” Clark wrote. “The fact is, there will always be someone who will find fault with any symbol we identify with.”
The union president said that the “Blue Line Punisher” and “Blue Line” symbols “have been widely embraced by the law enforcement community as a symbol of the war against those who hate law enforcement.”
“It’s how we show the world that we hold the line between good and evil,” he wrote.
Clark urged officers to demand leadership within the department, and not to bow to a police chief who he said is acting as a politician.
“We need a true leader who will stand up for his officers,” he declared.
With crime at an “all time high” and a “dangerously understaffed” department, “we need these officers cleared of any wrong doing and taken off the exclusion list,” Clark added.
“I am asking all officers and supporters to adopt the Blue Line Punisher symbol as their profile symbol in a show of solidarity,” the union president wrote.
Clark urged officers and their supporters to post messages on the police department’s page, asking for the officers’ names to be cleared.
But not all law enforcement officers agreed with Clark about using the Blue Line Punisher logo as a show of solidarity.
“Under no circumstances” should officers use that image, Ethical Society of Police (ESP) President Sergeant Heather Taylor told her group’s members in an email, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
She also urged members not to make statements on social media “that are inappropriate about the Chief of the Circuit Attorney.”
“Do not place your careers as officers in any situation where your cases and hard work will not be heard in a criminal court,” Sgt. Taylor reiterated.
The ESP’s membership consists of primarily black officers who work for are city and county law enforcement agencies.
“Free speech has restriction when you’re in law enforcement,” Sgt. Taylor told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
If officers don’t agree, “they should seek employment elsewhere,” she added.
Injustice Watch is a non-profit organization that considers itself the legacy of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and Northwestern University’s Medill Watchdog program, according to its website.
The PVP’s goal was to identify thousands of Facebook posts made by police officers nationwide that might offend somebody.
Since its launch in the fall of 2017, PVP has been scouring the Internet for any hint of offense in any post or comment by any user they could identify as a police officer, active duty and retired.
Then they created a database of more than 5,000 Facebook posts they felt “could undermine public trust and confidence in police," according to their website.
PVP found numerous “cop humor” memes that they determined were offensive, but they also targeted posts sharing news that the researchers found offensive.
The standards by which the posts were selected weren’t clearly defined but a deep dive into the database by Blue Lives Matter showed they were as inclusive as possible.
Our research showed that PVP placed officers in their database for sharing articles with which the researchers disagreed, even if the original poster had made no remarks and nobody had commented.
PVP also mined posts that had snarky comments that could be construed as offensive by some readers.
The database allows you to click on any given post and see available information about not only the law enforcement officer who posted it, but also those officers who commented on it, including their badge number and salary.
Each page offers a button that allows horrified readers to share the details of the posts directly to social media.
As if the attempted public shaming of law enforcement officers nationwide wasn’t satisfying enough, Injustice Watch took PVP’s research a step further.
Injustice Watch cross-referenced the database of posts PVP found offensive against lists of officers who had police brutality or civil rights complaints against them, BuzzFeed reported.
They also looked for officers who have had one or more federal civil rights lawsuits and whose Facebook posts had appeared on PVP’s list.
In the many cases, the organization was able to match up offensive posts with numerous officers for whom cities had paid thousands of dollars in settlements.
The database included breakout sections for four major cities - Philadelphia, Dallas, St. Louis, and Phoenix - and three smaller towns including York, Pennsylvania, Twin Falls, Idaho, and Denison, Texas.
Injustice Watch contacted many of those police departments directly, initiating internal affairs investigations that will end up costing them in money and manpower by the time they’re finished.
“As you are aware, our Department has recently been scrutinized following the release of a study completed by The Plain View Project,” St. Louis Police Commissioner Colonel John Hayden said in an email on Thursday. “Without question, there are some that are offensive, upsetting, and substandard to our agency Mission Statement and Code of Ethics.”
Col. Hayden noted that the Punisher is a “fictional, comic book vigilante” who “engages in acts of violence.”
“Although fictional in nature, the Punisher logo does not coincide with our mission,” the colonel continued. “We all must remain cognizant of the messages certain posts may send and the interpretation the community may have of them.”
SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda noted that “nobody seems to care what the Punisher symbol means to the officers who posted it,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“Just because it’s offensive to one hypersensitive activist in Philadelphia, doesn’t mean it’s offensive,” Roorda added.