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Officer Small wisely decides to alter controversial tattoo

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Walla Walla Police Officer Nat Small took a giant step toward healing a division in this community when he released a statement Wednesday saying he would alter his controversial tattoo.

Small, in his lengthy personal statement, explained his only intent in getting the tattoo in 2010 was to honor a fellow Marine who was killed in battle at his side.

The tattoo has double S lightening bolts for the Scout Sniper unit in which Small and his fellow Marine served. In 2012, the Marines stopped the Scout Snipers from using the double S lighting bolts because it too closely resembled the symbol used by the Schutzstaffel, which maintained Nazi Germany’s police state and its death camps. It has long been a symbol of racist groups.

While Small has had the tattoo since he began his career as a Walla Walla police officer in 2018, it sparked controversy this summer after a picture of it was posted on social media several weeks ago.

Since then there has been heated debate and public protests in the community. Whitman College recently cut ties with the local police department over the tattoo.

Small, in his statement, said he wants to end the division in the community.

“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,” Small wrote. “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.”

Small then made it clear in the statement he was not forced or compelled to make this decision.

Small made a wise and selfless decision for the community and the Police Department.

Some might not feel altering the tattoo is enough, but that doesn’t consider the personal story of Small’s specific tattoo in context.

Small makes it clear that the sole purpose of his tattoo in his mind was to honor his fellow Marine, Claudio Patino IV.

“I define the value of my friend’s’ sacrifice everyday. I am the one that is alive because of his death,” Small wrote. “... 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.”

We believe that Small’s decision sufficiently addresses the concerns about his tattoo because it is being altered, not just covered.