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Police chief reacts to tattoo on cop near Silent Sam: It ‘will not occur again’

A Chapel Hill police officer has been ordered to cover up a tattoo of the Roman numeral three in a circle of stars on his forearm because of “negative interpretations of that tattoo.”
A Chapel Hill police officer has been ordered to cover up a tattoo of the Roman numeral three in a circle of stars on his forearm because of “negative interpretations of that tattoo.”

Chapel Hill’s police chief says he regrets that one of his officers has displayed a controversial tattoo on his forearm while on duty because of “negative interpretations of that tattoo.”

The tattoo closely resembles the logo of the Three Percenters, an organization with dozens of chapters nationwide that has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “antigovernment.” Three Percenters reject that term and describe their goal as “to utilize the fail-safes put in place by our founders to reign (sic) in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny.”

In his statement, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said the officer “expressed regret that his tattoo has been associated with groups that perpetuate hatred and violence.”

He did not provide the officer’s full name. The News & Observer has requested more information about the officer but neither the chief nor the town has responded.

Blue declined an interview through a spokeswoman and did not include information in the statement about whether the officer had been disciplined or investigated for potential membership in a Three Percenter-affiliated group. The statement included no information about department policies, but said “the negative interpretation of that tattoo is inconsistent with the values and mission of our department.”

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Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue Harry Lynch hlynch@newsobserver.com

The chief’s comments followed wide circulation of a photograph of the officer on Twitter. A user who goes by the twitter handle @dhosterman posted the image, which appears to have been taken at a protest on the UNC Chapel Hill campus Monday.

The officer is shown in uniform in front of the “alternative monument” to antiracism that protesters erected before pulling down Silent Sam, a prominent Confederate monument that had been a flashpoint at the university for decades. The tweet, which identified the tattoo as a “three percenter symbol,” was retweeted more than 700 times.

The tattoo in question has 12 stars encircling the Roman numeral three whereas the Three Percenter logo has 13. Blue did not discuss the discrepancy in the statement he provided.

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The tattoo in question has 12 stars encircling the Roman numeral three whereas the Three Percenter logo has 13. Screenshot from Twitter.

The tattoo is not the officer’s only visible ink. Next to the debated image on his right forearm is another tattoo: “We the People” in a script reminiscent of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

That tattoo is popular among members of the patriot movement, a loose network of militias, sovereign citizens, tax protesters and others who see the federal government as overreaching the authority prescribed by the founding fathers. Unfettered Second Amendment rights are a major rallying point.

Chief Blue has not responded to a question from The N&O about how he interprets the “We the People” tattoo.

The 3 percent in the name is a reference to what the group says is the share of colonists actively fighting the British government at any one time. The Southern Poverty Law Center attributes that disputed idea, and the 2008 founding of the group, to Mike Vanderboegh, a veteran of the 1990s militia movement.

Three Percenters were among the activists who showed up in Charlottesville last year for the “Unite the Right” rally that left one person dead. They also participated in a patriot movement protest in Oregon against the sentencing of two ranchers on arson charges. When that rally morphed into the occupation of a federal bird sanctuary, Three Percenters showed up with long guns to provide what they called a “buffer zone” between the occupiers and the FBI.

In other parts of the country, officers have been disciplined for affiliation with the Three Percenters. Several police officers in New Jersey were disciplined after wearing Three Percenter patches, the Jersey Journal reported. And a Minnesota sheriff’s deputy resigned when he was investigated for looking up information in a law enforcement database on behalf of a Three Percenter, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.

Chief’s statement

Here is Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue’s statement:

The officer “has responded to our concerns about his tattoo. He expressed regret that his tattoo has been associated with groups that perpetuate hatred and violence.

“We understand the concerns regarding the negative interpretations of the tattoo and regret it was displayed. This will not occur again.

“We also want to emphasize that the negative interpretation of that tattoo is inconsistent with the values and mission of our department. We expect employees to abide by our values in the performance of their duties for the Town.”

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