Hate Symbols on Reykjavík Police Uniform Cause Public Outcry

police racist flag symbols

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.

Hatari Flew the Palestinian Flag at Eurovison

Icelandic Eurovision act Hatari held up banners bearing the Palestinian flag during the revelation of the votes at the 2019 Eurovision Grand Final. When the camera showed Hatari in the Green Room, Hatari members furled out the banners, releasing a clear statement. Much of the post-Eurovision discussion has revolved around Hatari’s act. Hatari’s song “Hatrið mun sigra” (Hate will prevail) is intended to portray what would happen in a hate-filled Europe without unity.

The contest was held in Tel Aviv, Israel, after Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest with her song ‘Toy’. Hatari finished 10th in the competition, having received 186 points from the public, and 46 from jury votes, resulting in 234 total points.
Hatari had previously stated that they intend to use the Eurovision platform to engage in a critical discussion, and had stated “Well we, of course, hope to see an end to the occupation as soon as possible and that peace will come. We are hopeful,” on their arrival in Israel. Pop artist Madonna also performed at the Eurovision Grand Final. Her performance was politically charged, as a white-clad dancer bearing the Palestinian flag performed with a black-clad dancer wearing the Israeli flag. The words ‘WAKE UP’ were also part of the performance. Performance organizers have stated that they were unaware of Madonna’s intentions and that the imagery had not been part of rehearsals ahead of the event.

Hatari comments
Matthísa Tryggi Haraldsson, one of Hatari’s two singers, had this to say: “This was all according to plan. We’ve always felt it is important to use art as a tool to raise questions, to push the state of things into a different context and to get people to ask themselves big questions. This was one way to achieve that. If people were looking for some kind of explosion from us, I believe that our show by itself was the explosion, but of course, we did this as well.” When asked about Hatari breaking the Eurovision rules, Matthías commented: “It wasn’t necessarily the plan to intentionally break the rules. There’s some undefined line there, and no-one knows where it lies. It’s a contradiction to say that this competition is un-political. We felt like we had no other choice. You cannot host such a competition, which is supposed to revolve around unity and peace among men, which is beautiful in itself, but when you compare it to what happens in this country [Israel], you cannot ignore it. Like we’ve stated, we want art to remind us of the bigger context. I hope we did that.” The atmosphere in the Green Room was mixed after Hatari’s act. “Israelis and other competitors either complimented us or cursed us. The reactions were unforeseeable.”

Palestinian reaction
Palestinian reaction to Hatari’s act has been mixed, ranging from ecstatic to denouncing the act. In the run-up to the Grand Final, calls for Hatari to boycott the competition had grown louder. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), denounced the act, stating “Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line #Hatari”

On the other end of the reaction spectrum, Palestinian marathon runner Mohammad Alqadi praised Hatari’s efforts.
https://twitter.com/ALQadiPAL/status/1129885235037048832

The European Broadcasting Union has released a statement on Hatari’s actions:
“In the live broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final, Hatari, the Icelandic act, briefly displayed small Palestinian banners whilst sat in the Green Room. The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and this directly contradicts the contest’s rules. The banners were quickly removed and the consequences of this action will be discussed by the Reference Group (the contest’s executive board) after the contest.”

It is not known what sanctions Hatari or Iceland might face for the band’s actions. It has been speculated that Icelandic national broadcaster RÚV, which organizes the Icelandic entry each year, might face a fine. It has also been mentioned that Iceland might be banned from Eurovision 2020, which will be held in the Netherlands.

The response of the delegation
The Icelandic delegation manager Felix Bergsson was caught by surprise by the act but has stated that the delegation waits for the decision of the European Broadcasting Union. Read more here. “I was undeniably surprised and had somehow not expected this. But it was unequivocally the decision of the artists. There will be some repercussions which I do not know exactly at this point in time. The European Broadcasting Union has already notified me that they will respond. We’ll just have to wait and see what the response will be. Everyone could have expected this, as these are opinionated folks who wanted to voice them. I hope it’s a storm in a teacup which will pass over tonight [last night] and tomorrow.

Icelandic Eurovision commentator Gísli Marteinn Baldursson stated that he wasn’t surprised by the band’s actions. “Realistically, I think that it wasn’t a tremendous surprise that Hatari did something like this. From my point of view, I had feared that they would do something even more drastic, which would have more severe repercussions than this act.”

Hatari’s performance in the Grand Final yesterday evening:

Eurovision staff confiscate flags
It has been released that not all Hatari members knew of the proposed stunt. A video was published on Hatari’s drum gimp, Einar Stefánsson, personal Instagram account, which depicts Israeli Eurovision staff confiscating the flags from Hatari members. One of the Hatari dancers can be heard in the background stating “I’m very afraid now. I want to go back to the hotel. I was not-,” before her voice trailed off.
https://www.instagram.com/p/Bxnxm0fg80r/

Hatari’s official Instagram page now depicts the Palestinian flag. https://www.instagram.com/hatari_official/

Madonna’s performance at the Grand Final
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2pqzm7VgYw

The flag incident during the vote revelation, along with Hatari interview
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PEpacwZUN0