The shirt says, "Powershift Seventh District," in reference to a police jurisdiction, and prominently features a grim reaper figure holding a rifle and Metropolitan Police Department shield, with a Washington, DC, flag waving in the background.
— DCist (@DCist) July 28, 2017
The "O" in "Powershift" is replaced by a Celtic Cross, a symbol the Anti Defamation League said was used by European Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s and was later adopted by neo-Nazis following World War II.
On Friday afternoon, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham posted a photo of the officer wearing the shirt on Twitter, and commented, "This is disgraceful and does not represent the hard working and committed officers of the Seventh District."
Social justice legal group Law4BlackLives, comprising lawyers that support the Black Lives Matter movement, filed complaints about the shirt with MPD, claiming the officer wore it in the community and to DC Superior Court, NBC Washington reports.
"This shirt is offensive and indicates systemic bias in the policing of people of color … White supremacy and insinuated threats of death should never be associated with or tolerated in police departments who are sworn to protect and serve," the group wrote in a statement.
Pending an investigation, the department has placed the officer in a "non-contact status." In its own statement, the MPD said, "We understand the trust of the community is critical to our ongoing work and take seriously any incidents that may undermine the confidence the community has in our members."
Eugene Puryear, host of Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary and an organizer for the Stop Police Terror Project DC, said that although Washington police have portrayed themselves as members of a just and fair institution, this incident exposes the department as racist and violent.
He told Sputnik, "I think it punctures the propaganda that the Metropolitan Police Department has been putting out for some time about how they’re one of the 'good' police departments and not like Baltimore or Ferguson," two cities in the US that have seen mass demonstrations as a result of police violence in recent years.
He added, "That belief has been pernicious in response to other issues people have had with MPD, whether it was the stop and frisk program they were running, whether it was the racial disparities in arrests around marijuana. Significant racially biased policing has been exposed in Washington, DC."
There is also a phrase on the shirt that reads, "Let me see that waistband jo." Puryear calls that a reference to a phrase officers say when conducting "jump-outs," a spontaneous tactic used by Washington, DC, police that he calls "Stop and Frisk on wheels."
"Jump-outs" began during the height on DC’s drug epidemic in the 1980s. In a jump-out, officers travelling in unmarked cars target citizens, usually for a spontaneous drug search, and commence the search or stop by leaping out of their vehicles, often with guns drawn.
He suggested that the phrase is being used to mock the predominantly poor and African-American communities where these abuses take place.
"It shows that the Metropolitan Police Department, just like police departments all around this country, not only practice racially biased policing, but quite frankly are safe havens for those who have racist views," he offered.