President’s Message: The Thin Blue Line flag

Nobody can really pinpoint the exact origin of the “Thin Blue Line.” It was referred to in the 1950’s by Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Parker. When the 70’s rolled around, author and police officer Joseph Wambaugh used it too. It has been in use ever since and was turned into a flag by a college student in 2014 named Andrew Jacob.

Jacob now owns Thin Blue Line USA, one of the largest online retailers of blue line flags, T-shirts and the rest of the stuff all the new kids buy. Some pin the origin of the “Thin Blue Line” to the British Army 93rd Highland Regiment. They were referred to as the “Thin Red Line” during one of the battles of the Crimean War because the Scottish Highlanders stood their ground against a relentless Russian cavalry charge. We know our brothers and sisters in the fire service can lay claim to that date for sure.

Quite simply, for those of us, at least, the thin blue line has been symbol of fraternity and esprit de corps. The symbol is that police are the thin blue line that stands between law and order and chaos.

Now fast forward to August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Unite the Right rally. The rally was attended by far-right groups, including self-identified members of the alt-right, neo-Confederates, neo-fascists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen and other various right-wing militias. I am not immune to the divisiveness, hatred, bigotry, injuries, and even death, caused by the rally. It was another difficult chapter in our country’s history.

Unfortunately, a couple of attendees decided to display a thin blue line flag at the rally. At that very moment in 2017, the thin blue line was divisive and racist! I remain dumfounded that a decision by literally a few individuals at a racist rally has branded a proud symbol of our profession.

Flemington Mayor Betsy Driver woke up one morning in June of 2020 and decided (herself) that the thin blue line running down Main Street since 2016 needed to be removed. She commented:

“This morning before most of Flemington woke up, I had the divisive blue line running down Main Street painted over. It’s time we put that shameful dividing line behind us.”

Well, I hope the mayor doesn’t wake up one morning and decide she doesn’t like Coca Cola, traffic signals or pizza shops. I am not being flippant. I just want to show you how absurd this has been.

I was on a recent township Zoom meeting regarding a police department. One of the retired officers had his Police Unity Tour photo as his background. And what was behind him? A thin blue line flag. One of the other attendees quickly pounced and stated that he was obviously biased and divisive “because of the divisive symbol in his photo.” I literally thought I was hearing things. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

The examples of how this has become such an issue go on and on.  In Holmdel, Yale College student Eileen Huang started a petition to remove their thin blue line. The township formed an ad-hoc committee as a result.

“I started the petition because I was frustrated to see such an intrinsically anti-Black symbol on the streets of my primarily white, conservative hometown,” Huang told the Holmdel-Hazlet Patch.

Intrinsically anti-black? Because she said so? The committee determined “…the symbol has been appropriated by white supremacist groups and the blue line now has the effect of making some members of our community feel unwelcome, and even threatened, in Holmdel.”

Thin Blue Line USA released a statement shortly after the events in Charlottesville, stating, “The flag has no association with racism, hatred or bigotry,” Jacob said. “It’s a flag to show support for law enforcement — no politics involved.” The company officially disavowed its use in Charlottesville.

Bigotry is prejudice against a person or people based on their membership of a particular group. Hate is intense or passionate dislike. There are nearly one million law enforcement officers in the U.S. who conduct almost 18,000 citizen contacts a day. Yet we are often broadly painted as the few who dishonor our oath because of the few idiots who carried a proud symbol of our profession into a racist rally. But despite their bigotry and prejudice, we remain the thin blue line.