An officer with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., has been accused of wearing a shirt with a racist symbol on it while he was on duty, and he has now been placed on “noncontact status” pending the department’s investigation into the incident.
Law4BlackLives, a group of lawyers who support the Black Lives Matter movement, told NBC Washington that it filed complaints with the Police Department after seeing the officer, identified as Vincent Altiere, wear the shirt in D.C. Superior Court and in the community.
In a photo taken by the group, the T-shirt features a Grim Reaper wearing an MPD badge and holding a rifle. The D.C. flag is in the backdrop, and the words “Powershift” and “Seventh District” surround the Grim Reaper. In place of the “o” in the word “powershift” is a Celtic cross, a symbol used by white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
In smaller letters below the Reaper, the phrase “Let me see that waistband jo” appears. According to Law4BlackLives, that is short for “jump-outs,” a more aggressive form of stop and frisk that targets men of color in searches for weapons.
“This shirt is offensive and indicates systemic bias in the policing of people of color,” Law4BlackLives said in a statement. “White supremacy and insinuated threats of death should never be associated with or tolerated in police departments who are sworn to protect and serve.”
MPD’s 7th District covers much of Southeast D.C. east of the Anacostia River, including the communities of Anacostia and Barry Farm.
In a tweet Friday afternoon, Police Chief Peter Newsham said, “This is disgraceful and does not represent the hard working and committed officers of the Seventh District.”
In a separate statement, the department said, “We understand the trust of the community is critical to our ongoing work and take seriously any incidents that may undermine the confidence the community has in our members.”
Washington Post reporter Radley Balko, who tweeted MPD’s statement, said in his tweet that defense attorneys have reported seeing other officers wearing the shirt, so this is likely not an isolated incident, and that speaks to a bigger problem.
Eugene Puryear is a member of the Stop Police Terror Project, one of the groups responsible for putting out a petition to have Officer Altiere fired. The petition currently has more than 1,600 signatures.
Puryear told DCist, “It’s three different levels of problems that are highly offensive and inappropriate. It suggests support for really problematic ideologies. It’s almost like they’re deliberately taunting the community about their fears and concerns they have about their constitutional rights.
“In their own words, [MPD] officers seem to be associating themselves with the angel of death,” Puryear added. “That’s just totally outrageous, especially in the context of police violence that they appear to be celebrating that they can take people’s lives.”
Charles Allen, Ward 6 council member and chair of the judiciary and public safety committee, told DCist, “If reports are accurate, the conduct is flat-out unacceptable. I was assured by the chief this is being taken seriously. In the district, community policing must be at the core of our approach to public safety. I hold all members of the department to the highest standards, and incidents like this one are stark reminders we still have work to do to build trust and ensure that the District is a safe place for all.”
OK, my thoughts:
Let’s be real here.
- I’m very sure there is more than one officer running around with this shirt. As Puryear told DCist, it’s highly unlikely that they produced just one shirt like this.
- This is dangerous. It represents an attitude and a mindset that is a direct correlation to the way black people are currently being treated by law enforcement, and anyone who disputes this is a got damn lie.
- Let’s openly admit that police are an armed gang, and this, coupled with the fact that our president is openly telling police officers he is OK with abuse, should have everyone in fear—black, white or otherwise.
- Police officers should not be treated as though they are above the law. If it is not OK for a firefighter to wear a Black Lives Matter pin on his uniform, then this should not be OK, either. You are basically advertising that you jump out at black men and terrorize them “in the name of the law.”
- These officers are making it clear where they stand, and that stance is against the public at large and minorities specifically. They should all be fucking fired.