Created as a pro-cop symbol, “thin blue line” imagery can be found hanging from the walls of police stations, waving from front yard flagpoles, and stuck to car bumpers — but they won’t be found at the University of Madison-Wisconsin police department.
Whatever the white, black and blue flag might mean to some, it evokes “fear and mistrust” in Chief Kristen Roman’s community, she said. It’s one reason among several that she’s decided to ban it.
The term “thin blue line” has been around for decades, but the flag itself is much newer, coming to prominence alongside the Blue Lives Matter movement, which was established in response to Black Lives Matter, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. As such, some view the flag as a symbolizing a movement that exists in opposition to BLM and its goals of achieving social justice and eliminating racism in policing.
“Effective immediately, visible public displays of thin blue line imagery while operating in an official capacity are disallowed,” Roman wrote in an email to officers on Jan. 15, but released to the public this week.
The move comes after community backlash against the department for a November social media post in which a “thin blue line” flag can be seen displayed at the police station. Student activists also called on the department to remove the flag, outlets reported.
But the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., was Roman’s tipping point, the email says. Watching the chaos and violence unfolding on the news, it wasn’t hard for to spot a few familiar flags carried in the fray.
Though they likely didn’t know it at the time, police at the Capitol were facing off against fellow officers from communities around the country who had joined in with the rest of the rioters, McClatchy News previously reported.
The symbol has been hijacked and tarnished, she said, to such an extent that it can’t be reclaimed. “Clinging” to it would be counterproductive, she said.
“I’m certain we can all agree that the actions and hateful ideologies of extremists who have so visibly co-opted the thin blue line flag in the promotion of their views not only threaten our democracy, our communities, and justice in all forms, they run counter to UWPD’s core values and significantly impede our efforts to build trust,” Roman wrote.
The ban has angered many, igniting another social media firestorm against the department.
“Only in Madison does an expert … with decades of experience in upholding the thin blue line cave to the agenda of woke college students and radicals who want to erode the value of the sacrifices LEOs make everyday,” one commenter wrote.
Others accused Roman of betraying her officers, of feeding a growing narrative that most cops are right-wing extremists, while some simply posted pictures of the flag in protest.
“You are so wrong and for all the wrong reasons,” another commenter said. “Those of us in law enforcement understand the true meaning.”
“People who entered the Capitol were also carrying US flags … are you going to ban the US flag?” asked another. “God save this country, because our ‘higher institutions’ certainly are working contrary to it.”
Still, a small number of people spoke out either in support of the ban, or in defense of the department.
“Our family supports this decision and your wonderful police. A good choice for this moment in time,” one comment read.
“This is not an embarrassment. What’s an embarrassment is how this symbol has been taken and distorted by the racists and fascists,” wrote another.
Ultimately, the flag isn’t all that important, Roman told UWPD’s officers.
“I also know that a symbol is not what holds us together or makes us a team,” the chief wrote. “Rather, it is our shared commitment to service and to first and foremost doing what’s best for our community.”
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