The man behind the comic book anti-hero, The Punisher, recently gave an interview to SYFY.com in which he put police on blast for continuing to use his skull logo. Gerry Conway, who has been writing for both Marvel and DC for decades did not mince words when he called out law enforcement for ridiculously using his symbol of violence and self-righteousness to represent themselves.
According to Conway, The Punisher’s character, Frank Castle, represents a failure of the system not a symbol of it. He explained that seeing police and military wearing his logo is disconcerting and disturbing.
I’ve talked about this in other interviews. To me, it’s disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He’s supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can’t depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.
Castle exists in the comic book because of bad cops and because of a failed system. For police to embrace this character is as irresponsible as it is insanely ironic. If Castle were a real life character, when citizens march against police brutality and killings, he’d likely be on their side, not the cops.
The actor from the Netflix series of The Punisher, Jon Bernthal, agrees. In an interview with Collider.com, Bernthal laid it out clearly.
As far as I’m concerned, I think for so long now we’ve really gone through this thing in this country where a certain element has a stronghold and a monopoly on what it means to be strong or tough or masculine or patriotic, for that matter. For me, the great joy that I have in playing this role and other roles is where I got to pick soldiers and combat vets, and the guys that share their stories with me. To me, the mark of somebody who is strong, patriotic, tough is someone who has an open mind. Someone who is open to listening to all sides and not be steadfast and not be completely clinging to their own sense of, ‘This is what is right and this is what is wrong.’
In the SYFY interview, Conway went further, noting how police officers using The Punisher brand are knowingly and flagrantly embracing criminality and corruption.
The vigilante anti-hero is fundamentally a critique of the justice sysytem [sic], an eample [sic] of social failure, so when cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they’re basically sides with an enemy of the system. They are embracing an outlaw mentality. Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.
It goes without saying. In a way, it’s as offensive as putting a Confederate flag on a government building. My point of view is, the Punisher is an anti-hero, someone we might root for while remembering he’s also an outlaw and criminal. If an officer of the law, representing the justice system puts a criminal’s symbol on his police car, or shares challenge coins honoring a criminal he or she is making a very ill-advised statement about their understanding of the law.
For those who don’t recall, the Free Thought Project reported on police officers using The Punisher logo before. Cops in Solvay, NY didn’t just place the stickers on their personal vehicles either. The chief actually had the logo emblazoned on the department’s patrol cars.
“The Punisher symbol on the patrol vehicles of the Solvay Police Department, while similar to the symbol featured in Marvel comics, is our way of showing our citizens that we will stand between good and evil,” the statement from Chief Allen Wood and Lt. Derek Osbeck said in 2017.
When asked by the citizens of Solvay to remove the symbol of criminality and violence from their vehicles, the department refused.
“There would be no reason to,” he said. “Why would we remove it?”
The department claimed that The Punisher logo on their vehicles represented “unity and support of police.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Further explaining the depth of the problem as it relates to our modern policing paradigm, sociologist Matthew Hughey told Salon at the time:
The Punisher employs such tactics as threats, extortion, coercion, blackmail, kidnapping, torture and murder to achieve his ends. Over the last few decades, American police forces are increasingly being caught (even more so on camera) using these very same vigilante tactics and are criticized for acting as through they are the law (rather than being servants of the law). The use of the Punisher as an avatar by local police departments and other law enforcement agencies may also worsen the well-documented psychological phenomenon where police are faster to shoot African-Americans than they are whites. It is reasonable to suggest, therefore, that the adoption of a vigilante killer’s logo (who murders with impunity and without consequence) could worsen and entrench this already extant pattern.
In spite of the clear disconnect between what The Punisher represents, and the job police are expected to fulfill within society, police still embrace this symbol of everything wrong with them. The irony is truly awe inspiring and serves as a litmus test for the current state of policing in the land of the free.