An Eastern Kentucky police chief has removed large decals with the Punisher skull and “Blue Lives Matter” from eight police cars after a backlash following the publication of a Herald-Leader story.
The Catlettsburg Police department, which employs eight full-time and two part-time officers for a population of about 2,500, featured the images on the hoods of its 2013 and 2017 Ford Interceptor sedans and sport-utility vehicles, assistant police chief Gerry Hatzel said. The stylized skull was from “The Punisher” comic book series.
The logo was praised by local residents but raised questions among others in the commonwealth.
The designs were spearheaded by Police Chief Cameron Logan, who worked with a vinyl decal shop in Louisiana to get the decals printed. Logan installed the decals on all the police vehicles in December. He would not discuss how much the decals cost.
“That design is basically to give back to the police officers,” Logan, who has been with the department for 13 years, said before reversing course on the emblems. “Our lives matter just as much as anybody’s. ... I’m not racist or anything like that, I’m not trying to stir anything up like that. I consider it to be a ‘warrior logo.’ Just ’cause it has ‘Blue Lives Matter’ on the hood, all lives matter. That decal represents that we will take any means necessary to keep our community safe.”
Overdoses and drug-related crimes have been on the rise, the chief said.
The city council and Mayor Randall Peterman approved the designs, Logan said. The Herald-Leader unsuccessfully sought comment from the mayor.
Richard “Andy” Brown, 37, who was elected to the six-person council after its vote on the decals, was critical of the decals.
“I don’t see why they’d waste the money, honestly,” said Brown, a Catlettsburg native whose family owns the IGA grocery in town. “My main objective is to make sure the taxpayers’ money is used in the most efficient way possible. It wasn’t expensive, but still. If it’s something they feel strongly about, they’re risking their lives and I understand that. I just think it’s a little bit strange. There’s been a lot of people mistreated by police, and their lives matter, too, like that guy in North Carolina.”
The shooting Brown referred to was of Keith Lamont Scott, 43, in September 2016 by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer.
Central to the decals was the Punisher, the nom de guerre of the Marvel anti-hero Frank Castle, a former Force Reconnaissance Marine and Vietnam War veteran who doles out justice “using torture, murder and kidnapping in his anti-crime crusade,” according to Time Magazine. The logo has been unofficially used by military units and was popularized in the award-winning film “American Sniper.”
The “Blue Lives Matter” movement unofficially began in December 2014 after two New York Police Department officers were shot and killed “by a fanatic who believed the lies of Black Lives Matter, the media, and politicians,” states Bluelivesmatter.blue, a media company founded by active and retired officers. The movement has since been embraced by President Donald Trump and has been used to describe a series of bills in Mississippi and Kentucky that would label crimes against police officers as hate crimes.
Kentucky’s “Blue Lives Matter” legislation is House Bill 14. The bill passed in Kentucky’s House on Feb. 13 after Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, was called a racist by Black Lives Matter protesters angry over her support of the legislation. Louisiana became the first state to pass a “Blue Lives Matter” bill in May 2016.
Some Catlettsburg residents said they hope Kentucky is the next to formally embrace the “Blue Lives Matter” movement.
Daniel Ray, 63, grew up in Catlettsburg and said that respect for police has suffered nationwide.
“I think everybody should be out there supporting their police and their community,” Ray said. “They’re out there putting their lives on the line every day. They get little gratitude for that already, and when we have silly people who challenge them and wonder what’s going to happen, what do you expect is going to happen? We shouldn’t be challenging our police officers. We should be supporting them.”
That opinion was shared by Charles Allen, the pastor of Catlettsburg’s United Methodist Church. Allen has lived in Catlettsburg since 1968 and is originally from Michigan.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Allen said. “I think all lives matter. Nothing to do with color. Black lives, yellow lives, red lives, whatever color of your skin. To God, every human being has a soul and we matter to God and we matter to each other.”
Photos of the Catlettsburg police cars were positively featured on the Kentucky Going Blue’s Facebook page, but on Reddit’s Kentucky community, the response was more critical. Reddit users questioned the legality of the decals and suggested the Punisher was “a really poorly thought-out message for a law enforcement agency to be putting out there.”
Syracuse University’s Roy Gutterman, who also is director of the school’s Tully Center for Free Speech, said the Catlettsburg Police Department was within its rights to feature the decals, which are often “an ordinary governmental administrative decision.”
“Even though the slogan mimics the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, I would not say that ‘Blue Lives Matter’ necessarily demeans any other slogan that would subject the city to any other additional criticism,” Gutterman said.
Gutterman also said the department’s use of the Punisher could generate negative attention from the Walt Disney Co., which acquired Marvel Entertainment in December 2009 for $4.2 billion. Disney threatened legal action against a gun accessory manufacturer in Nov. 2015 for using its Punisher imagery. The city didn’t seek Disney’s approval, the chief said. Disney did not respond to a request for comment.
“If the department is using an actual comic book character, I suspect this usage is an infringement of intellectual property rights, specifically the copyright held by the creators or owners of that character,’ Gutterman said before the decals were removed Friday. “The appropriation of that image might be more troubling than whatever the character may stand for. They might as well put Batman or Superman on the cruisers while they’re at it.”