EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — A small cartoon pig drawn hastily on a pizza box is taking on a deeper political meaning, and it’s only been five days.
On Sunday, a now former employee of The Pizza Joint’s downtown location drew a caricature of a pig on the pizza box of two El Paso Police Department officers. The instance quickly gained attention and aligns with other acts of subversion as tensions between communities and law enforcement remain fraught.
Since Sunday’s incident and the associated media coverage, the image has been adopted as a sign of resistance.
Jose Martinez is an El Pasoan living in Austin who is using the image to create merchandise. Proceeds of the merch will go to the former Pizza Joint employee and to protestors’ bail funds.
Martinez says he was frustrated with the lack of due process that seemed to occur. The Pizza Joint fired the employee who drew the cartoon within about an hour of the incident, and Martinez says there is a disparity between the way that situation was handled and the way alleged criminal offenses by law enforcement are investigated.
For example, he points to the fact that the three police officers who killed Breonna Taylor have yet to face punishment.
“Losing your job during a pandemic isn’t easy,” Martinez tells KTSM 9 News. “I used the exact same drawing as the image from the pizza box and thought I had to drive the message home even harder.”
An El Paso Police Department spokesman told KTSM that the images created by Martinez are “moronic and disgraceful.”
Martinez says a series of social media posts led to the idea to make merch using the cartoon pig along with abolitionist language. Within hours, the posts with samples of the merch accrued hundreds of likes.
“I want to definitely distribute them as much as possible to keep that sentient alive through art and design,” says Martinez.
Minority voices have been amplified thanks to internet platforms and a younger generation being willing to engage in discussions of race and other issues of social justice.
“The internet and social media are spotlighting these incidents of people being racists at grocery stores and like ‘Karens Gone Wild.’ They might seem humorous at first, but that’s how it works. The art uses humor to talk about issues. Humor is a coping mechanism, that’s why memes are such a big thing,” said Martinez.
The elevation of social networks like Twitter and Facebook to political platforms caused a shift in the way Americans consume and digest media, reducing the most powerful messaging to four-word phrases and simple imagery.
A red baseball cap that reads “Make America Great Again.”
And more recently, a kawaii pig calling to defund the police.
According to an article from Political Psychology, culture-specific symbols like the cartoon pig serve a valuable function that influences attitudes toward critical policy issues that later lead to mobilization. Scholars are in agreement that a sense of history is foundational to creating and maintaining a sense of community.
The Pizza Joint pig now marks the moment leading to the adoption of the image as a symbol of resistance in El Paso.
“History is an important symbolic resource in mobilizing support for public policies regarding intergroup relations,” write the author of the Political Psychology article, “because temporal continuity is central to claims of legitimacy for peoples.”
In the context of El Paso, a moment in history was made because it concretized the extent to which some members of the community find law enforcement to be a menace. To draw the cartoon was a pointed message of distaste and an opportunity to express prolonged conflict.
The incident gained temporal continuity once it was taken to Facebook and then the press, further propelling pro-law enforcement arguments of cops being unfairly targeted in the community while amplifying the outrage of many abolitionists.
EPPD spokesman Sgt. Robert Gomez told KTSM 9 News officers face challenges every day, and wondering if their food has been tampered with should not have to be one of them.
The incident exposes a sense of vulnerability typically unseen in law enforcement under bullet proof vests, further shielded by helmets and protective wear, and suggests resistance to being perceived as vulnerable (or poisoned).
Sgt. Gomez made a plea for empathy when he spoke to KTSM 9 News and said to “Ask yourself, does this individual cooking or handling my food dislike me simply because of the uniform I wear?’”
Abolitionists and Black Lives Matter advocates have noted the similarity in this plea to that of vulnerable BIPOC populations who are hated not for the uniform they wear, but the color of their skin.
Martinez used the image of the pig and combined it with the anti-police acronym “ACAB” (for All Cops are Bastards) to connect the local incident with the popular punk phrase that took root in the U.K. during the 1940s.
“I think in general, the cops profit off the working class — off the regular people,” says Martinez. “Especially on the border.”
KTSM 9 News reached out to EPPD for comment but did not hear back by press time.