WATERLOO – The griffin on the police department’s patch came under fire during Monday’s City Council meeting as a local attorney called the creature a racist symbol.
Controversy over the symbol has been simmering in recent months with some calling for its removal and police officers standing by it.
During Monday’s public comment section, Kathryn Mahoney, a private attorney, said the creature on the patch, a red griffin on a gold field adopted around the time of civil rights struggles, resembles an image associated with the Ku Klux Klan.
“We must remove this symbol and adopt something we can all be proud of. It so closely resembles a Klan dragon that the two symbols are fairly indistinguishable,” Mahoney said.
“Many states incorporated the stars and bars into their state flags in the 1960s. Waterloo adopted the Klan dragon,” she said.
Police officials said the griffin — part eagle, part lion from Greek and Egyptian mythology — represents vigilance. The logo on the patch was the work of Jack Bender, a one-time cartoonist for The Courier best known for inheriting the “Alley Oop” comic strip. The image is emblazoned on uniform shoulder patches and squad car doors.
Critics of the police patch said the rendering looks more like a dragon, which has ties to the KKK. A Klan state chapter president is called a grand dragon, and the hate group borrows other fantasy beasts for offices — hydras, wizards, giants and cyclopes. But no griffins.
Mayor Quentin Hart, appearing at Monday’s video meeting, stepped in during Mahoney’s statement.
“Ms. Mahoney, no one from the police department ever said it was a Klan dragon. It is defined as a griffin, whether it looks like it or not, that’s subject to debate. No one said it was a Klan dragon within these city walls,” Hart said.
“Relatives of officers have publicly stated it was well-known as a, quote, green-eyed N-word eater,” Mahoney responded.
Council member Margaret Klein, the only council member attending the meeting in person, called Mahoney’s comments a rant.
“It was prejudicial against our police officers. There is no career in the world that doesn’t have an occasional bad apple. But you don’t lump everyone together and you don’t call into question the noble service of many police officers present and past,” Klein said.
Council member Pat Morrissey came to Mahoney’s defense, saying she was making a statement about basic human rights.
“The citizen who spoke was making a statement to the continued mistreatment, abuse of a segment of 15 to 20 percent of our city … and how a certain logo is oppressive to that citizenry,” Morrissey said, noting he would support a resolution to do away with the griffin.
Council member Jonathan Grieder said he also supports removing the griffin.
The griffin patch has come under renewed criticism this year during the Black Lives Matter protests, and the city’s new police chief has floated the idea of taking up a second patch, one designed by community members, while still retaining the griffin patch.
The city’s police union, the Waterloo Police Protective Association, is against removing the griffin and is urging residents to contact City Council members and the mayor to support the logo.
“Waterloo Police Department officers have proudly worn this griffin for 56 years, while humbly serving the citizens of Waterloo,” said Rob Camarata, a police sergeant. “The griffin has been part of the Waterloo Police Department uniform since 1964, after the police chief at that time, Robert Wright, conducted research on the patch in an effort to find a unique patch that would be symbolic of police work.”
After the controversy over the griffin image started, the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit that monitors hate groups, was contacted to look for any possible links, he said.
“The Anti-Defamation League reported back that there are no ties between the griffin and any hate groups,” Camarata said.
Alternative patch designs can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is Aug. 31.