Complete statement released by the city of Walla Walla regarding Officer Nat Small's decision to alter his tattoo.
For immediate release: July 8, 2020
Chief Scott Bieber
Walla Walla Police Department
Statement from Officer Nat Small regarding his tattoo
WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Walla Walla Police Department Officer Nat Small has written the following statement regarding his tattoo:
My name is Nat Small, and I have been a police officer for the City of Walla Walla since November of 2017. Prior to my employment as a peace officer, I served as a Scout Sniper in the United States Marine Corps. On June 4, 2020, a picture of me in a short sleeve shirt began circulating on social media referencing a tattoo that, I admit without context could be construed in ways never intended. If you are reading this, you have likely already seen a picture of the tattoo, or read the article in Stars and Stripes Newspaper, where I spoke freely about the topic in 2012. I explained the tattoo's significance, and provided photos of the tattoo. The article was distributed nationally without criticism. I have never tried to hide the tattoo, but I have always kept it covered while on duty as a police officer out of respect to the public, given the possibility of its misinterpretation.
The tattoo features brass knuckles overlaid on a double “S”, and bears the name of my teammate (Claudio Patino IV) who was killed by my side in Afghanistan in 2010. The brass knuckles were designed to replicate a tattoo Claudio wore over his heart. Claudio grew up in a gang infested area in Southern California and the brass knuckles represented his mother’s tough love and discipline. He credited this tough love and discipline to being the only reason he had escaped a dark path he might have easily strayed down. His family had been involved in gangs, and one of his brothers was shot as a result of gang violence. The S’s beneath were a reference to our service as Scout Snipers. Many of the members of our mixed race platoon received this tattoo in honor of our fallen teammate.
I understand why some people have concerns, and I am unwilling to tell anybody that their concerns are invalid. That is not my call to make. Historically targeted minority groups especially have a right to be offended by, what based on their interpretation is, a hate symbol. I acknowledge the despicable past linked to the symbol that, without context, my tattoo could be misinterpreted as. I also acknowledge the justified apprehension of the Jewish communities' acceptance of my explanation. I’m not here to invalidate anyone’s concerns, but only to explain my position and intent. The double sig runes (SS) in its “Armanen” form has been used to symbolize the function of Scout Snipers since the end of the Vietnam War, and its use is both well documented and verifiable. The “SS” wasn’t selected for any anti-semetic reasons or ill intent, but simply because they stacked together nicely, and accurately acronymized the title “Scout Sniper”. A well circulated article from 2012 prompted an investigation into the Scout Sniper communities use of this insignia, and found no ill intent associated with its use, but did ban further use of the insignia within the United States Marine Corps. My tattoo was inked in 2010, and I was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 2011, prior to the public outcry in 2012. My personal intent was nothing more than to honor my fallen teammate, with what was a common symbol within the Scout Sniper community at the time.
The tattoo on my forearm was an early and heartfelt memorial to my teammate. Far truer, and more valuable memorials in honor of my friend have since been constructed. We have built Nux4Life, a foundation in his name that has provided college scholarships to children of fallen Marines, placed service dogs with disabled veterans, taken amputees and other combat wounded veterans on hunting trips, and financially aided widows and families of those who were unable to come home. I define the value of my friends' sacrifice everyday. I am the one that is alive because of his death. Therefore, the way that I live my life, the good things I do for others, the children I raise to be good contributing members of society; that is all because of him. I owe it to him to be successful, to be selfless, and to be happy. Every good thing I do brings credit to his unselfish actions that allow me to be here today. In that sense, I am the truest memorial to my brother, Claudio.
At one point, the tattoo on my arm was so important to me, that in my young mind, I would have done anything to keep it. I would have let pride interfere with my success, and I would have let it inhibit my ability to help others. I have seen my community divided, with good people on both sides of the aisle. Neighbors have turned against each other and people are refusing to do business with those whose opinions differ. I regret that I have been an unwitting cause of division in the community that I seek to serve. For those reasons, I have decided to alter my tattoo to eliminate the “Double S” portion.
I have not been forced or compelled to make this decision by my superiors at the Walla Walla Police Department or the City of Walla Walla. Further, I have not done this to avoid punishment or financial losses. My actions are my actions alone, and not out of fear of repercussions, but rather in an honest effort to bring healing and unity to the community that I serve, in a time of great division.
Let us not be divided based on our opinions, but rather, united based on our values.
The City of Walla Walla appreciates Officer Small’s sensitivity to the concerns raised by members of our community, and welcomes his decision to change his tattoo to better uphold the trust residents place in him as an officer in the Walla Walla Police Department.
“We regret the fact Officer Small’s tattoo has contributed to divisions within the community, and we hope his decision to change it will help to unite — rather than untie — us,” Mayor Tom Scribner said.
Chief Scott Bieber will share additional details about the situation, including the City’s policy on employees’ tattoos and background information regarding Officer Small’s service with the Walla Walla Police Department, during the virtual town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.