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September 02, 2016

Northeast Philly residents react to photos of officer with apparent Nazi tattoos

Police Race
Northeast Philly police 2nd district John Kopp/PhillyVoice

Philadelphia Police Department's Second District station is located along Levick Street in Northeast Philly. Officer Ian Hans Lichterman, who was photographed with what appears to be a tattoo of Nazi symbol on his arm, is stationed here.

Photos depicting a Philadelphia police officer with apparent Nazi tattoos on his arm prompted an internal affairs investigation, national news coverage and a deluge of reactions posted to social media websites on Thursday.

There was no shortage of opinions or reactions to the photos. That includes the people who live, work and travel through the Second Police District in Northeast Philadelphia, where Officer Ian Hans Lichterman allegedly works.

The images of Lichterman, 39, depict an eagle with outstretched wings tattooed beneath the word "Fatherland" on his left arm. The eagle appears similar to one featured in the Nazi Party's Partieadler emblem, which depicts an eagle holding a wreath containing a swastika.

The photos do not show whether Lichterman's tattoo also featured the wreath and swastika. That's an important distinction, said Jason Lawrence, a history and political science teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School.

"The picture is in such a way that the bottom of the eagle is hidden," Lawrence said while eating lunch at Burholme Park in Northeast Philly. "That makes all the difference. ... What's that eagle's claws doing is the big question."

It could simply be a German eagle, Lawrence said. But if it indeed is a Partieadler emblem, he said that prompts serious questions. Particularly, can an officer with a Nazi tattoo be trusted to police a diverse community equally?

The First Amendment protects free speech. But Lawrence noted the public holds professionals who regularly deal with the public — like police officers, teachers and elected officials — to greater scrutiny.

"How about taking any racism out of it," Lawrence said. "Suppose, I, as a teacher, joined NORML, (an organization that seeks to legalize marijuana). I didn't break any laws. I just belong to that group. People might say I don't want a teacher, who has influence over children, (representing that group)."

That's what Sam Jackson, 21, found unsettling. He had not seen the news coverage on Lichterman. But he wondered how a Jewish person might feel if he was stopped for a traffic violation by an officer with a Nazi tattoo.

"Automatically, I'm going to seem a little uncomfortable," said Jackson, of Northeast Philly. "This guy [who's] supposed to be taking care of our youth and community — he's absolutely biased."

Philadelphia police announced Thursday that internal affairs is investigating the matter. But a police statement acknowledged the department does not have any policies regarding tattoos.

Adopting a policy is necessary, Jackson said, especially given the broader context of police relations in America.

"It's coming to a point that people are afraid of these people that are protecting them," Jackson said. "I think people are truly afraid of [the] police."

The photos of Lichterman were posted to Facebook on Wednesday by Evan Parish Matthews, who claimed that they were taken while Lichterman patrolled a Black Lives Matter march during the Democratic National Convention. Matthews urged people to tell the Second Police District that employing an officer with such tattoos is unacceptable.

His posted was shared some 7,800 times and prompted a spate of news coverage.

Elizabeth Polkowski, 55, of Germantown, had not seen any of the coverage. But upon learning of the situation, her reaction was swift.

"He shouldn't be on duty," Polkowski said while waiting for a bus at Frankford Transportation Center. "Right away, he's prejudiced. I don't care what anybody says — that's prejudice. He has that on his body. That's a statement."

Others wanted more information before casting judgment.

If Lichterman holds racist viewpoints, he should be fired, said one Northeast Philly man waiting for his bus. But if he does not — and the tattoo is a remnant of former viewpoints — he said Lichterman should simply be forced to cover it up.

"Again, it depends if it's something he believes in now," said the man, who declined to give his full name. "Who has not done something stupid or believed something stupid in their life? Everybody messes up."