Cartoon on EPPD officers’ pizza box raises alarm on the need for empathy

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — An El Paso restaurant is the latest example of perceived anti-police behavior that has caused division in the community. 

On Sunday, an officer from the El Paso Police Department posted a picture on Facebook that claimed he and his partner ordered food from The Pizza Joint’s downtown location and the box featured a cartoon drawing of a pig. The post soon went viral.

EPPD says the small cartoon pig is a pointed anti-law enforcement sentiment. 

Mel Maese, who owns The Pizza Joint, posted on the pizzeria’s Facebook to apologize and make it clear the community knows the behavior is unacceptable and drawing on pizza boxes violates company policy.  

“Officers are faced with many challenges throughout a shift while working. Worrying about the food you eat should not be one of them,” EPPD Spokesman Sgt. Robert Gomez tells KTSM 9 News.  

The Pizza Joint took swift action and apologized on Facebook

“I am absolutely astonished and embarrassed that this occurred at one of my restaurants. This was a rude act and inappropriate,” wrote owner Mel Maese. 

“To all public servants, essential workers, and our community in whole, I apologize on behalf of this employee for offending and being so disrespectful. The Pizza Joint is and remains a safe space, a neutral zone where everyone should feel welcome and appreciated.”

This is not the first (or most recent) case of restaurants expressing anti-police messages on food and beverage containers.

In Nov. 2019, a Starbucks barista in Oklahoma was fired for printing “Pig” on the label of a police officer’s drink on Thanksgiving. 

Gomez asks that the public use this example as a teaching opportunity to encourage empathy. 

“Unfortunately, officers while working are human and have to stop to get a bite to eat in between calls whether it be at a drive-through or having the luxury of being able to sit down to eat. Consider this the next time you go out to eat at a restaurant or pick up food through the drive-through,” he says. 

“Pig” is a derogatory term used in reference to police officers and was first used in the early nineteenth century. The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue contains an entry for pig that has surprisingly modern features:

Pig: A police officer. A China street pig; a Bow-street officer. Floor the pig and bolt; knock down the officer and run away.

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

References to law enforcement as pigs became popularized in the 1960s during the Black Panther Movement. 

In 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was created by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, Calif. “to serve the needs of the oppressed people in our communities and defend them against their oppressors.”

The Black Panthers implemented social programs that included meal programs for children, the publication of a newsletter, and education on revolution. 

The messaging of a cartoon in the organization’s newsletter came into question and went as far as Congress.

Editor Frank Benson Jones gave testimony in which he explained the use of pigs dressed in police uniforms as a form of satire. 

“I think they are saying that policemen who don’t conduct themselves as police officers and who engage in criminal activity in the black community could be removed from the black community,” said Jones in his testimony. 

Jones’ testimony is invaluable because it makes a very clear, but often overlooked distinction: “pig” isn’t used as a stand-in for “police officer” in general.

“Pig” is used to describe a bad law enforcement officer.

In terms of linguistics, “pig” and “bad apple” in our lexicon have the same semantic meaning of an officer who does not conduct themselves to moral standards but contain vastly different connotations. 

Both language and behavior can influence perception, as we have seen of police officers and members of the public make regrettable decisions. 

The incident in El Paso calls attention to the very human desire to not be unfairly judged. 

“Ask yourself, does this individual cooking or handling my food dislike me simply because of the uniform I wear?’ says Gomez. 

“That question runs through every officer’s mind when he or she gets their food.”

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