Native American images are misused by Wisconsin law enforcement

The National Congress of American Indians has called for a ban on the appropriation of Native American images, names and cultural symbols. Schools and sports teams respected the call and retired their Native mascots, which they now recognize as offensive and disrespectful.

Evidently, some Wisconsin law enforcement agencies never got the memo. The  Sheboygan Press reports that sheriff and police departments across Wisconsin use Native logos on patrol cars and uniforms.  To name a few: Barron, Sauk, Jefferson, Pepin and Chippewa Falls sheriff departments, and police departments in Osceola, Chippewa Falls, Kewaskum and Tomah.

The Sheboygan County Sheriff’s department recently doubled down by making their logo, a silhouette of an American Indian in a war bonnet, much larger. The “updated” logo is now impossible to miss: it’s emblazoned across their patrol vehicles. The sheriff was quoted as saying “there’s nothing negative” about the image and dismisses criticism as political correctness.

This is not political correctness. These images create harm. Scores of studies have documented their negative effects on children. Exposure decreases Native students’ self-esteem and increases depression and suicidal ideation. These images also activate racial stereotypes and prejudice among white students.

Professional associations across the country have called for a ban on these images. Wisconsin law enforcement agencies should heed the call. They may not see the harm, but what message are they sending about their commitment to diversity when they patrol neighborhoods in squads featuring American Indians in war bonnets? Racial characterizations have no place on law enforcement vehicles or logos.

Let’s turn this into a teachable moment. Ask high school students to develop new logos for their communities. Teach them perspective taking. Help them learn that turning people into logos is dehumanizing and that appropriating a culture’s symbols does not respect a culture but rather exploits it.