Punisher Co-Creator Gerry Conway Says Police Using Skull Logo As A Symbol Of Oppression Is Vile And Disturbing
The past few weeks have seen protests break out across America and the world, as people take to the streets to demand change and vent their fury at the unjust killing of George Floyd by former officer Derek Chauvin.
The incident has galvanised the Black Lives Matter movement, bringing issues surrounding police brutality and the attitude of law enforcement toward black communities, and other minority groups, into sharp focus in a hitherto unprecedented way.
One disturbing development that’s come to light over the last few years, but has been thrown into sharp relief by the events occurring in America, is the adoption of The Punisher’s symbol by some members of law enforcement in the United States.
The Punisher is a Marvel Comic vigilante, famed for killing the criminals he encounters with extreme prejudice. His symbol, a stark white skull, has in recent years been used by pro-police Blue Lives Matter protesters, and has even been officially adopted by police forces in several American states, despite the character being linked with vigilantism and escalating violence.
Now, The Punisher’s co-creator Gerry Conway has stepped in to encourage fans to help him reclaim the skull symbol from police, in favour of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Earlier this week, Gerry tweeted:
I’m looking for young comic-book artists of colour who’d like to participate in a small fundraising project for #BLM to reclaim the Punisher skull as a symbol of justice rather than lawless police oppression.
To be clear, this little project is open to anyone who wants to contribute their time and effort. It’s not a paying gig, it’s intended to raise funds to support BLM. I hope to use multiple artists with a variety of styles and artistic approaches.
Following his tweet, UNILAD reached out to Gerry Conway to better understand his planned support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and to discuss the complex and complicated history of The Punisher and his logo.
Gerry told us he first became aware of The Punisher logo being misused about a decade ago when a journalist approached him with a story about Iraqi troops – who had been trained by American soldiers – who were using the Punisher logo on their vehicles, uniforms, and weapons.
It transpired that US soldiers had initially adopted the symbol, and subsequently passed it on to Iraqi soldiers. At the time, Gerry felt ambivalent about the situation, understanding Frank Castle’s fictional history as a veteran and man of honour made him an appealing figure to some soldiers, but he bristled with the unfortunate conflation of The Punisher, a vigilante, with members of the armed forces, who are meant to be held to a higher standard of discipline and behaviour.
However, when Gerry discovered the adoption of The Punisher’s logo had filtered out of the military and had started to be used by some members of the police as a ‘symbol of oppression and control’, he admitted it left him feeling disturbed.
Gerry told UNILAD:
Police who were identifying with a vigilante, who’s the very embodiment of a failure in the justice system, just struck me as a complete misunderstanding of the origin of this character and the intention of this character.
The Punisher was never intended to be a hero as such, he’s a tragic figure, a man of honour, who from his despair is driven to take up arms against a justice system that has in effect failed him.
So why would a representative of that justice symbol embrace that symbol? Well it’s because they’re identifying with an outlaw and vigilante, and that’s incredibly wrong-headed, vile and disturbing.
Gerry believes some police have adopted Punisher’s skull symbol because they want to create a sense of fear and imply an element of extrajudicial action, which he finds ‘vile’, and it’s for those reasons he’s working to reclaim The Punisher symbol as one for justice.
There’s also some degree of wanting to do it for the fans of the character, many of whom Gerry tells me are people of colour, who see Frank Castle not as a murderous vigilante but as someone like them, someone who’s been let down by the justice system.
[Young men and women of colour] see The Punisher as a victim of the same forces that victimise them. They see him as an opponent of a corrupt legal system that’s abandoned them, so to some extent, they do identify with his rage, and I think it’s these people who have a right to embrace The Punisher’s symbol, certainly far more of a right than officers of the law.
In the hope of reclaiming the logo for the fans who have the right to use The Punisher symbol, Gerry put out his tweet, calling to action artists to redesign the infamous skull, and claim it once and for all for the Black Lives Matter movement, thus Skulls for Justice was born.
Skulls for Justice promotes redesigned versions of the skull symbol, predominantly using art from young black artists, of The Punisher logo, and incorporating Black Lives Matter symbols into them. Gerry is now selling the designs on T-shirts, with 100% of the profits going to Black Lives Matter.
We also couldn’t help but ask Gerry, as the co-creator of The Punisher, what Frank Castle would make of the officers who’ve co-opted his symbol – and he took the opportunity to remind those officers who so misunderstand The Punisher that he would not see them as allies.
Gerry said Frank would judge them by the same standards he judges everyone, and ‘there’s no way he’d approve of the acts of these people’, before adding: ‘If he saw a bad cop, that cop’s going down.’
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org/talk