A D.C. police officer who came to court wearing a T-shirt an advocacy group says includes a racist symbol and offensive images was put on desk duty Friday and ordered to have no contact with the public.
“The message conveyed on the T-shirt does not represent MPD’s values,” the D.C. police said in a statement, referring to depictions of the grim reaper and a pre-Christian style of cross that the Anti-Defamation League says is a commonly used white supremacist symbol.
The statement from Police Chief Peter Newsham called the shirt “disturbing and disgraceful” and noted that “the trust of the community is critical to our ongoing work.” It also said police “take seriously any incidents that may undermine the confidence the community has in our members.”
The shirt could violate rules that prohibit officers from wearing clothing that contains language “of a social, economic or political nature that might be considered as an advocacy statement, or which might create controversy,” according to D.C. police general orders guidelines.
D.C. police did not name the officer, but he was identified by the advocacy group. The Washington Post could not reach him for comment. The shirt identifies the officer as a member of the 7th District, which includes some of the city’s most violent areas of Anacostia, Barry Farm, Naylor Gardens and Washington Highlands.
The black T-shirt has the Grim Reaper as its centerpiece, holding what appears to be a rifle with the District of Columbia flag attached. At the top is the words “powershift,” referring to officers assigned to a special unit that focuses on tough crime areas, and “Seventh District” below. The cross is embedded in the ‘o’ in “powershift.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, the same type of cross is the logo for the neo-Nazi website Stormfront.
The image on the T-shirt also includes a police badge and the phrase, “Let me see that waistband jo,” an apparent reference to “jump outs,” a long decried, and police say now defunct, practice of police jumping out of cars to round up people on corners. The advocacy group likened the quote to a taunt.
Eugene Puryear, an organizer with a group called Stop Police Terror Project D.C., said the officer was seen wearing the shirt in a restaurant last month, and he was identified from a name tag that was visible on his uniform underneath. A member of Law for Black Lives, a group of legal professionals affiliated with the Black Lives Matter organization, took a photo, which has circulated on social media sites and is the subject of a petition to fire the officer.
Puryear said that officer and others have been spotted wearing the shirt over their uniforms while waiting to testify in D.C. Superior Court.
“We wanted to create knowledge in the community that this is going on and that we don’t approve of this behavior,” Puryear said. “This is a clear violation of MPD policy for an officer to wear a shirt such as this. Why are police officers wearing a T-shirt that celebrates the Grim Reaper?”
D.C. police officers, while off duty but still wearing their uniforms, are required to wear “cover-shirts” to hide their uniforms. It’s mostly to protect officers who live outside the District from being mistaken for police when they, for example, stop to get gas on their way home from work. Officers who are off duty but required to testify might wear the shirts to and from the courthouse. Off-duty officers are considered on duty once they punch in to testify.
Sgt. Matthew Mahl, chairman of the D.C. police union, did not comment on the incident, but said officers are under tight scrutiny and “have to be conscious of the things we do and the articles of clothing we wear.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.