A news photograph of an Icelandic police officer has sparked a public outcry due to patches on her uniform with racist associations. The officer denies the symbols have any negative meaning behind them. Reykjavík capital area police stated they are taking the matter seriously.
The photograph, which appeared with a news story on mbl.is, depicts several patches on the inside of the officer’s vest. The patches would not have been visible had the vest been zipped up as is usually the case. The first patch is an Icelandic version of the so-called “thin blue line” flag. While it was originally conceived in the US as a symbol of police solidarity it has been criticised as a symbol of white supremacy.
The officer also sports a green Vinland flag, originally designed by a metal band but since adopted by neo-Nazis and far-right groups. The Vinland flag features a skull known as the “Punisher” symbol. Originating from a Marvel comic character of the same name, the Punisher symbol has been used by US police and military forces, and was removed from the hoods of police cars in Kentucky after public backlash.
Twitter users expressed outrage at the symbols. “What on Earth is going on?” asked Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, tagging Reykjavík capital area police. “It is completely incomprehensible that this is happening, and a clear violation of law.”
Symbols Common Among Cops
The cop pictured in the photograph is Anita Rut Harðardóttir. Anita told Vísir the flags are Velcro patches that are commonly exchanged between cops and worn by many police officers in Iceland. A police officer for 21 years, Anita denied that the symbols had any racist meaning behind them.
“I was given these flags. I wore them because I thought they were cool. I still wear them as do many other police officers. They don’t mean anything negative and I would never wear a flag on my vest that meant something negative to me.” Anita added that she found it sad how police are often a target for criticism. “I’m a little sad because this is an attack on my person,” she stated. “But I know better and I just need to forget about it.”
Police Department Responds
The Reykjavík Police Department’s Public Relations Officer Gunnar Rúnar Sveinbjörnsson says such markings are not permitted on police uniforms and the case is being taken very seriously. He stated he could not answer as to whether the case would have any consequences for Anita. Chief Superintendent Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson says the symbols are completely inappropriate and police officers have been instructed that they may not wear any flags or symbols on their clothing that are not part of their uniform.
“I instructed all the police officers at the department I work for that all these markings should be removed from their vests. Such markings are completely unacceptable and send the complete opposite message to groups that the police are struggling to approach and achieve a better relationship with every day. So we do not appreciate this in the least,” says Ásgeir Þór.
The photograph that sparked the debate is around three years old and has been used on mbl.is several times in recent years, but it appears that no one noticed the flags until now.