(JTA) — A police officer in Walla Walla, Washington, said he will remove his tattoo resembling the insignia of the SS, the Nazi paramilitary force.
Nathan “Nat” Small said in a statement Wednesday that he decided to remove the tattoo “in an honest effort to bring healing and unity to the community that I serve, in a time of great division.”
Small was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marines in 2011. He said the tattoo, which he’s had since 2010, is “an early and heartfelt memorial” to a fallen teammate.
The tattoo bears the name of his fellow sniper Claudio Patino IV, “who was killed by my side” in Afghanistan in 2010. Small said his unit adopted the insignia believing it stood for “Sniper Scouts” and was not aware of its Nazi origins. The military banned the symbol in 2012.
Photos of the tattoo appeared last month on social media. The local police department defended Small’s tattoo on its Facebook page, citing his service. Following expressions of outrage, the department said it understood the connotations of the symbol and said that Small wears long-sleeved shirts to cover it.
But a local synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, called on the police department, its chief and Small to issue a public apology “acknowledging our concerns about the symbol’s history and their dismissal of its connection to genocide.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which got involved in the case, said late Wednesday that it would refrain from filing a lawsuit against the Walla Walla Police Department until it sees what the new tattoo looks like. It has also asked for a time frame for the tattoo’s removal.
“I understand why some people have concerns, and I am unwilling to tell anybody that their concerns are invalid,” Small also said in his statement. “Historically targeted minority groups especially have a right to be offended by, what based on their interpretation is a hate symbol.”
“I regret that I have been an unwitting cause of division in the community that I seek to serve.”