The NYPD is defending the use of the nickname “Fort Jah” by officers in the 67th Precinct in East Flatbush, after a 2017 fundraising “challenge coin” featuring the term surfaced on an auction website. A department spokesperson also professed ignorance of the origin and meaning of the nickname for a precinct that encompasses one of the city’s largest West Indian communities.
According to NYPD spokesperson Detective Denise Moroney, the coin was produced by members of the Police Benevolent Association as a fundraiser for injured Officer Dalsh Veve and sold in the precinct headquarters in the Summer or Fall of 2017.
At least four other challenge coins listed online and bearing 67th Precinct markings also feature the “Fort Jah” nickname. Two of those other coins also feature racist imagery, like a depiction of a black man with dreadlocks being “hunted” by white police officers, along with a quote from Ernest Hemingway celebrating the “hunting of man.” One example features an image of an eagle holding a skull with dreadlocks.
According to Moroney, only one challenge coin listed for auction could be confirmed as part of a precinct fundraiser, and denied that the other coins have any link to the department.
Moroney said neither she nor the commander of the 67th Precinct, listed on the precinct’s webpage as Elliot Colon, knew what the term “Fort Jah” referred to, though she acknowledged that “Jah” is a term for God in the Rastafari faith.
“There’s always nicknames that fly around, they’ve floated around since the 1980s, 1970s. You have Fort Apache, Fort Surrender, you have a lot of nicknames that have stuck around through the ages,” Moroney said. Fort Apache is a term historically used to refer to the 41st precinct in the South Bronx, and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie. Fort Surrender is an alternate name for the 66th Precinct, in Borough Park. The 46th Precinct is known as “the Alamo,” a nickname still used by official NYPD Twitter accounts. “Where Fort Jah comes from? I’m not sure, I couldn’t tell you,” Maroney added.
Anthony Posada, a supervising attorney for the Community Justice Unit of the Legal Aid Society, said the nickname and the imagery of the coins was an example of the NYPD’s “dehumanizing” culture.
“Not only are they making fun of the religion and the beliefs and the culture of the people whom they have committed to protect and serve, they’re saying you are the hunted. You are the savages,” Posada said.
The 67th Precinct has among the city’s highest rates of civilian complaints. In 2018, it was the target of a lawsuit by former City Council member Kendall Stewart alleging discrimination against the West Indian community there. The 67th is also home to Sgt. David “Bullethead” Grieco, one of the most-frequently sued officers in the NYPD.
Challenge coins have been a part of NYPD culture for generations, and it’s not the first time that their imagery has been called into question. In 2018, the department defended the use of the Punisher, a violent vigilante superhero, on a challenge coin produced by the NYPD Gang Squad.
“Items such as challenge coins and T-shirts increase morale and build a team spirit among the officers,” a spokesperson told the Daily News at the time. “Departmental policy dictates that commanding officers use a common-sense standard in determining what is and is not acceptable for display [of] these items.”
The Ernest Hemingway quote featured on one of the coins above has also been a point of controversy before, after officers were spotted in 2013 wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase. Though it appears slightly altered here, the full quote — “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter” — is from a 1936 short story Hemingway published in Esquire magazine titled “On the Blue Water.”
One of the coins features an image of an eagle holding a skull with dreadlocks. The image echoes a T-shirt design described on THEE Rant, a verified message board for active and retired NYPD officers, as well as a similar clothing patch currently for sale on Etsy. The seller did not respond to a request for comment.
None of the coins are dated, and their sellers either could not be contacted or did not reply to inquiries from Gothamist.
The NYPD did not respond to additional questions about the challenge coins, but said in an email that no public funds are expended to produce challenge coins, adding that “the NYPD condemns any form of racism.” The PBA did not respond to requests for comment.