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Despite denouncing police brutality, online retailers sold coins commemorating bad behavior by cops

Police misconduct challenge coin
Posted at 9:05 AM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 09:05:05-04

Major American companies last year quickly denounced the killing of George Floyd, promising efforts to improve race relations and end inequalities in the criminal justice system.

A year later, a Newsy investigation has found four of these well-known brands have allowed the sale of souvenir coins from third-party sellers that depict scenes of police misconduct.

For generations, commemorative challenge coins have been used and traded as small, collectible tokens of appreciation or reward.

They have no monetary value. Presidents give the coins out, as do leaders in the military and on police forces.

The unofficial challenge coins available for sale on some of the largest online marketplaces are different — they are mementos of misbehavior by law enforcement.

"What we’re talking about here are challenge coins that commemorate and really celebrate some problematic aspects of policing," said Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and current law professor at the University of South Carolina. He testified as an expert for the prosecution in the trial against Derek Chauvin, Floyd’s killer.

Amazon called for a stop to the "inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people." Yet, the retailer was selling a coin memorializing a viral video of a 2019 traffic stop in Virginia.

In that video, a white trooper yanked a Black man, who has his hands up, out of the car and onto the pavement. The Virginia State Police condemned the trooper’s actions and fired him.

The trooper is carved on the "heads" side of the coin with his profane quotes etched on the rim.

Amazon’s listing for the keepsake disappeared after reporters asked about it.

However, online shoppers can still buy another coin on the site, one that depicts an incident where a short-fused Connecticut trooper cussed out a driver he had pulled over. Connecticut State Police disciplined the officer, but the Hartford Courant wrote, the coin was "circulating among his fellow troopers."

After Floyd’s murder, Etsy took a stand "against police brutality in all forms." But Etsy was also selling the coin with the Connecticut trooper and the one with the ex-Virginia trooper.

Reporters was able to buy it on Etsy for $16.99.

Etsy’s listing for the coin vanished when reporters reached out to ask why the company allowed the sale of the coins on its site.

Neither Amazon nor Etsy ever responded to a request for comment..

Last year an eBay senior vice president wrote on social media that "there is no place for hate or violence in our community, and we will do whatever we can to affect change."

But eBay recently allowed the sale of a coin commemorating riot teams’ response to unrest in 2015, with the words "the Baltimore six" — an apparent reference to the six officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray who died in police custody.

It just sold on eBay for $366.

The company declined to talk about it.

"I’m not thrilled that retailers are fulfilling this market demand but I’m far more concerned that there is a market demand for this," Stoughton said.

Walmart’s marketplace site also was offering the coin of the Connecticut officer, a year after Walmart's CEO spoke out against Floyd's death.

When asked about the coin, Walmart took it offline.

A spokeswoman said the item was inappropriate.

"We do have a robust set of processes and rules in place to prevent content like this from being on our site, but every so often something makes it through," said Carrie McKnight, senior director of global communications for Walmart.

Louis Gregory runs LEO Challenge Coins. He said he designed the Connecticut and Virginia coins that were for sale on major retail sites.

Gregory said they are pop art; a form of expression not meant to celebrate anything but to instead mark a moment in time.

"It’s up to the public to decide how the art makes them feel and whether they view it as a positive, a negative or perhaps as neither," Gregory said.

He offers souvenir coins for all kinds of events. He would not disclose how many police misconduct coins he has sold or who is buying them.

This story was originally published by Patrick Terpstra for Newsy.