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OCT 2020 Blues Vol. 36 No. 10

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OCT 2020 Blues Vol. 36 No. 10

BACK the BLUE blue

BACK the BLUE blue neckties and hair ribbons at the funeral service, but the fallen officers’ caskets were draped with American flags. Dallas Police Sgt. Stephen Bishopp has a doctorate and has studied police stress, use of force and officer misconduct. The “thin blue line” symbol existed before several of his colleagues were gunned down by a sniper in July 2016, he said. To him, it symbolizes respect and understanding for the families of officers killed in the line of duty—including suicides. “When I see that flag as a sticker on a car or flying in someone’s yard, I know that there is someone there that knows what I’m going through. They know because they are a part of the family,” Bishopp said. “I don’t really care if it bothers people or hurts their feelings to see that flag. I absolutely could care less. I am proud of what I do, the people I work with, and the ones who have died defending the rights of strangers. I will continue to fly that flag until my very last day.” Social media allows for endless remixing, and the offerings now appear infinite. You can buy a sticker that mixes the imagery with the Disney World logo. You can buy a dog tag necklace, with a Matthew 5:9 engraved on the back: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Law enforcement officers can buy a special edition Sig Sauer pistol covered with the flag and blue line. But as the images have multiplied, so have the meanings. The American flag and blue line have often been blended with the image of a skull associated with The Punisher, an ex-Marine turned vigilante who first appeared in Marvel comics in 1974, combatting crime through extrajudicial murder and torture. “Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol,” the character’s creator Gerry Conway told Syfy Wire last year. “In a way, it’s as offensive as putting a Confederate flag on a government building.” Although the flag’s manufacturers have tried to keep politics away from the flag, the current protests over the death of George Floyd have thrust the image into larger debates. In Cold Spring, New York, local leaders debated last week whether placing a decal of the flag on a police car would make some people afraid to ask officers for help. In Montclair, New Jersey, a police leader begged residents on a Zoom call not to view the flag as a “symbol of racism.” “We’ve seen trucks riding around with big old versions,” said Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, about the protests in recent days. “It feels akin to a Confederate flag.” She has also noticed the flag’s image on police and other government-owned vehicles, and she sees this as evidence that even self-described liberal officials are not doing enough to combat white supremacy. “The supposed ‘liberal’ answer to Donald Trump has not been as critical of police violence as it should be,” she said. Police officers themselves are also not speaking uniformly about the flag. Last month, San Francisco’s chief of police Bill Scott banned his officers from wearing face masks emblazoned with the thin blue line flag, worrying they would be seen as “divisive and disrespectful.” The masks had been distributed by the local police union, which accused the department of failing to provide masks. “We did it as a morale booster for each other,” union president Tony Montoya said, “not as a political statement.” Local skirmishes and letters to the editor in various states have questioned whether the thin blue line flag is a violation of the U.S. Flag Code, which specifically states: “The flag should never have placed upon it, nor any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.” Despite that language, the American flag is depicted in many other ways for a number of purposes, many commercial. Still, the American Legion, which played a key role in drafting the Flag Code and is the go-to authority on proper U.S. flag etiquette, has not taken an official position yet on the black-and-white version with a blue line, a spokesman told The Marshall Project. EDITOR: Some may not agree with some of this writer’s views or descriptions of events regarding the “Thin Blue Line.” But as law enforcement officers, we are trained to listen and observe. It’s important that we understand what the public’s perception is towards the Thin Blue Line and do our best to make that a positive rather than negative opinion. 54 The BLUES POLICE MAGAZINE 55 The The BLUES BLUES POLICE POLICE MAGAZINE 55

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