Newly released footage from the Uvalde, TX elementary school shooting on 24 May showcasing an officer’s Punisher phone wallpaper has people wondering about its meaning.
Warning: Please be advised of distressing content
Video from a surveillance camera shows officers entering and appearing to wait in the hallway while just beyond the doors, shooter Salvador Ramos fired, killing 21 children and teachers and injuring 17 more.
One of the Uvalde officers on the scene seemed to be checking his phone, looking at what appears to be a Punisher skull logo set as his wallpaper.
Since the footage was first released, this has captured the public’s imagination. Did the Uvalde officer with a Punisher logo on his phone know what the image represents? Some online commenters wondered while others pointed out the video still’s unique irony.
Watch the surveillance footage from Uvalde school shooting
The Austin Statesman obtained and published 77 minutes of surveillance and bodycam footage from the Uvalde elementary school shooting on 24 May. They also published an edited 4-minute version highlighting the main events of that day.
According to both videos, the shooter crashed his car outside the school before making his way inside where he proceeded to terrorise and then shoot students and teachers indiscriminately. A few minutes later, hallway camera footage shows police arriving and waiting outside the doors leading to classrooms.
During this time, one officer checks his phone, which has what looks like a Punisher skull as its wallpaper, while another uses hand sanitiser from a wall dispenser.
In most versions of the footage, the sounds of gunfire and children screaming have been removed as they were considered. rightly so, to be too disturbing for viewers.
The Statesman explained their reasoning for releasing the video: “Our decision to publish, along with our news partner, KVUE, comes after long and thoughtful discussions.”
“Our news organization guidelines state that we should not glorify these individuals and give them the notoriety that they seek,” they added.
The entire video is available to watch here. However, please be advised the footage is extremely disturbing and viewer discretion is advised. The Statesman has also published a narrative story describing key events from the video.
Uvalde officer’s Punisher logo is at the centre of the footage debate
While the video in its entirety has given rise to mass outrage, online discussion has zeroed in on a number of elements, like the hand sanitiser or the Uvalde officer’s Punisher logo phone background.
Within minutes of officers entering the school, one of them pulled out his phone and checked the lock screen. There, eagle-eyed viewers spotted the unmistakable skull logo of comic book antihero The Punisher.
Many commenters pointed out the contrast between law enforcement’s actions during the shooting, and the “tough-guy” Punisher logo.
“That cop in Uvalde having his lock screen be the punisher logo and him being scared to take on an active shooter is truly the perfect encapsulation of how cops see themselves vs who they really are,” one comment read. Since it was posted, the tweet has amassed 133.6K likes.
Another user said they had expected the video to contain “a lot of banal moments”, but still wasn’t prepared for what he saw.
What does the Punisher skull logo stand for?
In The Punisher, co-creator Gerry Conway’s own words: “This character and symbol was never intended as a symbol of oppression. This is a symbol of a systematic failure of equal justice.”
Frank Castle aka The Punisher is a comic book antihero who became a vigilante after he tragically lost his wife and children in a Mafia hit.
Castle was an Italian-American US Marine who served multiple tours of duty and received a number of high-class distinctions for his service. He became the Punisher – a cold-blooded vigilante who takes the law into his own hands – after police stood by as his family was killed by the Mafia.
So, the original Punisher was not a police officer nor did he side with them. The reason he became the Punisher in the first place was that he felt law enforcement had let him down
How the Punisher logo’s meaning changed over the years
Over the years, the logo’s meaning was co-opted by the Thin Blue Line and Blue Lives Matter movements to stand in support of police. A number of online shops selling pro-police merchandise now offer a range of items – from hoodies to caps and tube socks – stamped with the logo.
The Thin Blue Line version first appeared in 2017 on a number of police cars belonging to the Cattlesburg, KY Police Department, along with the slogan “Blue Lives Matter”. Police Chief Cameron Logan, who spearheaded the initiative, explained his decision: “I consider it to be a ‘warrior logo.’”
The department reportedly took down the decals from their cruisers after backlash from the community.
Conway has spoken out about the logo’s pro-police meaning: “The idea that police, even unofficially, would take on this character just seemed to me to be not only totally inappropriate but also shocking,” he told Newsweek in 2021.
Conway, who grew up with police in his family, explained his view: “The idea that the police are supposed to be given a pass on laws they’re held to enforce is incomprehensible. It’s not my understanding of the police.”
In an effort to redress what he saw as a misappropriation of the Punisher logo, Conway created Skulls For Justice. The campaign brought together artists to colour and redesign the logo, which was then sold on t-shirts and the proceeds donated to the Black Lives Matter movement.