It was a small sticker, a black-and-white picture of an American flag with a single stripe, coloured blue.
One Tuesday night in February, it was on show within the prime proper nook of the window for Salt Lake Group School’s South Metropolis safety workplace. By Wednesday morning, the sticker was gone.
The flag picture, normally known as the Skinny Blue Line flag, is seen by some as an emblem of solidarity with regulation enforcement — and by others, significantly African Individuals, a divisive icon.
The picture rose to cultural prominence in response to protests in opposition to police brutality in 2014 — reinforcing “an uncomfortable view of regulation enforcement” held by many within the Black group due to America’s historical past of police violence in opposition to folks of shade, mentioned Glory Johnson-Stanton, SLCC’s supervisor of multicultural initiatives.
The image turned much more related to a racial divide when it was adopted by far-right teams, and waved at white-supremacist occasions, just like the 2017 Unite the Proper rally in Charlottesville, Va.
“I don’t suppose [a Black student] would really feel snug going into that workplace or being round any of the officers right here,” Johnson-Stanton mentioned.
Shane Crabtree, SLCC’s government director of public security, mentioned he didn’t know in regards to the sticker’s presence. He added that he feels the flag image’s unique intent was to honor regulation enforcement, however acknowledged that not everybody agrees.
“Some folks can view it as an emblem that represents regulation enforcement vs. them,” Crabtree mentioned, including that he would authorize the image in any of SLCC’s security workplaces.
Variations of opinion
In 2014, Andrew Jacob, a white faculty pupil on the College of Michigan, had the concept of placing a blue line on an American flag image — as a present of assist of regulation enforcement as protests in opposition to police brutality swept the nation. (The phrase “skinny blue line” — describing police as the one pressure separating law-abiding residents from criminals — goes again to the early 1900s.)
Jacob now’s president of Skinny Blue Line USA, an internet retailer that sells merchandise emblazoned with the black-and-white flag with the blue stripe: Christmas ornaments, face masks, t-shirts and, sure, stickers.
Jacob’s firm insists the image is apolitical. When the U.S. Capitol insurrectionists brandished the image on Jan. 6, 2021, the corporate swiftly issued a press release denouncing the assault.
“The Skinny Blue Line Flag stands for the sacrifice regulation enforcement officers of this nation make every day,” the post learn. “We reject within the strongest attainable phrases any affiliation of the flag with racism, hatred, bigotry, and violence. To make use of it in such a manner tarnishes every part it and our nation stands for.”
Kent Oggart, the South Metropolis campus’s security supervisor (who is just not a member of regulation enforcement), mentioned the image represents unity — however “folks can view any image nonetheless they need to.”
Johnson-Stanton argued that it’s tough to consider officers at SLCC will not be conscious of how many individuals – African Individuals, specifically — have a special view of what the flag represents.
“Whoever put it up, I consider that they needed to know what it meant,” she mentioned.
Johnson-Stanton mentioned the image was a direct response to the Black Lives Matter motion — and a response to how that motion was misrepresented.
“The extra we talked about our lives mattering, the extra it made different folks indignant,” she mentioned. She added that Black Lives Matter “is just not about cops and different folks … not mattering,” however an try to shine a light-weight on the violence Black women and men have been struggling by the hands of regulation enforcement.
Rae Duckworth, the interim director of Black Lives Matter’s Utah chapter, was extra blunt: “That’s an unsightly, horrible, divisive image” that was “solely created to overshadow the Black Lives Matter motion.”
In Duckworth’s view, exhibiting the flag image at an establishment that fosters range in training appears like a betrayal.
“The truth that was being showcased is frightening,” she mentioned. “I really feel worry for these college students.”
An emblem commandeered
SLCC didn’t have “any official consciousness” of the Skinny Blue Line flag sticker being displayed on the South Metropolis campus, mentioned Kathie Campbell, the varsity’s interim dean of scholars and assistant vice principal. Whereas displaying it falls beneath officers’ First Modification rights, she mentioned the sticker “would most likely not have been up if [school officials] had recognized it was up.”
Campbell mentioned she acknowledges that SLCC is “a microcosm of our surrounding group” and should take care of the varied prejudices discovered within the tradition. Within the final yr or so, the varsity has handled the invention of the letters ‘KKK’ written on a school whiteboard and the racist interruptions of digital faculty occasions.
Sgt. Cameron Roden, public info officer for the Utah Freeway Patrol — the company that handles police companies at SLCC’s South Metropolis, Taylorsville and Jordan campuses — mentioned the Skinny Blue Line flag is just not prohibited inside the company, “nevertheless it’s not an emblem that’s significantly endorsed.”
(The flag sticker appeared close to the UHP’s beehive brand on the window on the South Metropolis security workplace.)
At SLCC, troopers have met with pupil teams, Roden mentioned, to “open up avenues of dialog [and] make inroads so that everyone appears like they will come to regulation enforcement there on the faculty.”
Peter Moosman, coordinator at SLCC’s Gender and Sexuality Pupil Useful resource Middle, confirmed the varsity’s security workplace has made efforts not too long ago to fix its relationship with “communities which have a historic distrust or a damaging historical past with regulation enforcement.” He mentioned the presence of that image would make college students already uncomfortable reaching out to campus regulation enforcement can be even much less inclined to take action.
Deidre Tyler, a sociology professor at SLCC, mentioned one’s interpretation of the Skinny Blue Flag “relies on who you’re and your experiences.”
Tyler, who’s Black, labored alongside regulation enforcement within the Eighties as a social employee in Mississippi, and located the expertise largely constructive. However instances and attitudes change, and Tyler mentioned she would discover it laborious to place herself within the mindset of a faculty pupil right now.
“What one factor means to [a 62-year-old] can imply one thing completely completely different to a 19-year-old,” she mentioned. “We’re so completely different in how we understand issues.”
And people variations — knowledgeable by age, expertise or id — contribute to a tradition that’s more and more divided, she mentioned.
“Will it change?” Tyler requested. “Your guess is pretty much as good as mine.”
Will Stamp wrote this story as a journalism pupil at Salt Lake Group School. It’s printed as a part of a brand new collaborative together with nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.