Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard noticed the black, white, and blue skull soon after she walked into the annex of the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse. Blanchard, a caseworker for a community mental health organization, was accompanying a client to the Sex Offender Monitoring unit. She noticed the poster taped to a wall next to the seat where the man she was with needed to check in. "It's the first thing you see when you sit down," Kuwabara Blanchard told Hell Gate.
Blanchard snapped a picture that she later shared to Twitter: the infamous Thin Blue Line flag superimposed on a Punisher skull, grinning above two crossed pistols and captioned, "I hunt the evil you pretend doesn't exist."
Because the participant Kuwabara Blanchard works with is on the sex offender registry, he is legally required to check in at that specific, NYPD-managed facility as a condition of his parole—which means coming face to face with that imagery and messaging is non-negotiable if he and other people on the registry want to avoid prison and further criminalization. "I find it just even more disgusting, because [the registry is] already people who are so stigmatized and basically banished from society. Then, when they have to come report, that's literally the thing in front of them."
The image appears to be identical to this premade digital file available for sale online for $3.49 on a website that sells vector graphics. Or, almost identical, because someone slapped the NYPD logo in the middle of the Punisher skull's forehead before printing and hanging it.
When reached for comment and provided with the location of the flier, a spokesperson for the NYPD told Hell Gate that it had been removed after a review. "The NYPD takes claims of offensive material very seriously and it will not be tolerated," the spokesperson wrote in an email.
The same spokesperson has not yet confirmed whether there will be an investigation or disciplinary action related to the flier. A representative for the Civilian Complaint Review Board told Hell Gate that it had not received any complaints related to the flier, and that until more information was available about who put the flier up, it was unclear whether the act fell into the police oversight board's jurisdiction.
The police appropriation of the Punisher skull is well-documented—so much so that one of the cartoon character's co-creators explicitly asked cops to knock it off and stop using the comic book logo as a Blue Lives Matter symbol. The NYPD has its own history of controversy with the symbol. In 2020, the Twitter account for the NYPD's 24th Precinct deleted a photo with an officer pictured wearing a prime example of Blue Lives Matter merch: a cloth face mask with a Thin Blue Line-patterned, Punisher-style skull and the acronym DILLIGAF, as in "Does it look like I give a fuck?"
In 2021, an NYPD sergeant was suspended for 10 days without pay and docked 30 vacation days for wearing two different pro-Trump Punisher patches to a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn—a penalty she filed a lawsuit to overturn in January.
This also isn't the first time the NYPD has faced backlash for displaying threatening language in an official department facility. In 2022, Gothamist reported that the 71st Precinct ignored criticism from community members and Councilmember Crystal Hudson over an Ernest Hemingway quote stenciled onto its walls: "There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter."
"To insinuate any meaning to the Hemingway quote other than the fact that tracking and arresting violent, armed criminals can be exhilarating, rewarding, and often dangerous is a disservice to the meaning of the Hemingway quote and to the officers who do this work," an NYPD spokesperson told Gothamist at the time.
To Kuwabara Blanchard, there's an obvious thread between language about "hunting" criminals and the dehumanization certain people regularly face at the hands of the criminal justice system. As victim of sexual assault herself, she sees the flier’s message as deeply harmful and counterproductive in fighting sexual violence. "I think the registry doesn't keep anyone safe, including the person on the registry," she said. "The more you banish people from society and tell them no one cares about them, the more people feel like, okay, I have nothing to fucking lose."
And the implicit violence—the guns, the skull, the Punisher's stance as a proud vigilante who kills criminals regular law enforcement can't reach—coupled with the NYPD logo sends a message Kuwabara Blanchard thinks no one should have to see. "'Kill your local rapist' is a real thing—people are constantly harassed," she said. "If you're trying to make changes in your life and people are constantly telling you the worst thing you've ever done defines you, how can you move on?"