Darcy Costello, Baltimore Sun, June 3, 2022
A challenge coin with graphic imagery and offensive language, emblazoned with the Maryland State Police logo, is prompting concerns from troopers who see it as a potential response to allegations of racial discrimination within the agency.
Photos of the coin obtained by The Baltimore Sun show two images of female anatomy with slogans referencing people being offended, or not being able to take a joke. One side of the coin, with an image of a woman’s rear end, depicts underwear with the message, “I’m Offended.”
Both sides of the coin appear to include the insignia for the state police.
Challenge coins are tokens that people in organizations such as law enforcement agencies or the military collect to commemorate events or membership. They have led to controversies in other police departments, including a coin circulated among Phoenix police officers that appeared to mock an injured protester and coins depicting civil unrest connected to agencies in Milwaukee and Louisville, Kentucky.
Within the Maryland State Police, this challenge coin is the latest to spark an investigation; others have led to disciplinary action within the agency in recent years, according to Russo.
Some, including the leaders of the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers and the Randallstown NAACP, say the latest coin is being interpreted as a reaction to issues raised by Black troopers about disparate treatment around discipline, hiring and promotions, as well as racist incidents within the agency.
Those concerns prompted state legislators to call the superintendent of the agency in for questioning last year, with one lawmaker referencing an incident in which a banana was left on the hood of a Black trooper’s car.
Sgt. Anthony Alexander, the president of the coalition representing Black troopers, said there’s been “animosity and division” in the agency following recent complaints, with the challenge coin the most recent example of a culture that needs to change.
Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown NAACP branch, said he’d also heard from troopers who saw the coin as part of an attempt to “downplay the plight of minority and women troopers at the state police.”
Coleman said it’s evidence of a problematic culture that could be having a broader effect on residents.
Black troopers last year accused Maryland State Police of racism and discrimination, particularly around hiring, promotions, membership of special units and disciplinary outcomes, according to media reports.
A state senator from Prince George’s County met with more than 20 Black troopers, a Washington, D.C., TV station reported last year, which prompted her to call the agency superintendent before the legislative Black caucus.
The report from NBC4 Washington highlighted a higher percentage of disciplinary cases against Black officers than their white counterparts, a lack of proportional representation and the incident with the banana, which reportedly was investigated and concluded with no findings of racist intent.
An email sent to Gov. Larry Hogan in March by a state police sergeant, which was obtained by The Sun, made additional allegations, including a barrack commander forbidding troopers from bringing in Chinese food because it “stinks,” which at least one sergeant of Chinese descent found offensive. According to the email, a subsequent investigation found no probable cause for discrimination.
Last year, the agency investigated a challenge coin created to commemorate a traffic enforcement campaign dubbed “Make Waldorf Great Again” that prompted concerns from Black troopers, NBC Washington reported.
Rodney Morris, a past president of the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers, who is retired from the agency, said even if officials say they don’t condone the coins, there is clearly a culture “willing to buy or feed into this type of behavior.”