Yesterday I made the mistake of commenting on a “Back The Blue” social media post (one that was put up on a Facebook community page, of all places… Not particularly known for being forums of rational thought & conversation). The post was in response to the two L.A. police officers who were shot the other day. It basically said, “Hey police officers: We want you to know we’ve got your six” (which, if you don’t know, is military speak for “watching someone’s back”). The military reference seemed very intentional, as the poster was letting law enforcement know that the community is watching out for people who might be trying to ambush them while they’re pumping gas, eating at a restaurant, etc… and ready to jump into the fight, presumably pulling out pistols and pumping people full of bullets. Hundreds of people liked the status.
So I made a comment reminding People Of Color that I had THEIR backs… That I would film interactions between police and the Black people I saw… That — when two officers put a Black man in a choke hold and beat him unconscious for not having his I.D. while being a passenger in an Uber (as happened a few days ago) — I would work to see the officers fired and charged for their crimes… That — when a handcuffed man is slowly murdered by a cop who kneeled on his neck for nearly NINE MINUTES while he called out for his dead mother, or a women is killed in her own home for doing absolutely nothing — I would work to dismantle the systemic racism within policing which makes Black folks nearly THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY to be killed by an officer of the law…
You’d have thought I pissed on the 9/11 memorial. People were… NOT pleased. They insisted that I was one who was racist, for bringing up race. QAnon cultists showed up, demanding that “pedophilia” was the REAL problem in this country, and insisting that “800,000 kids every year” are abducted and sold into sex slavery, or some BS (when really, the number is closer to 115 kids per year). I was told that I should be ashamed of myself. I was told that it’s a Christian’s responsibility to support the police. They even tagged a Black conservative (who is into QAnon & doesn’t believe that systemic racism exists) to argue with me. All in all, I wasted about two hours of my life.
You know what? I don’t know about that… Maybe it wasn’t a waste? It was definitely a waste if you judge wasted time by the number of QAnon cultists’ minds you’ve changed. But maybe there were some people reading along at home who read something that made sense. Maybe a Black person living in a conservative southern town felt seen or supported in some way. And maybe I worked out some stuff in my own mind too… One of those things I have worked out is that the whole “Back The Blue” and “Thin Blue Line” and “Blue Lives Matter” movement is INSEPARABLE from the racism behind it. And that includes this racist garbage right here:
Now, many of you are probably thinking, “I don’t know that we should call that ‘racist.’ That’s just people showing their support for the police.” Well, let me explain it to you…
The creation of this flag came about as part of a “Blue Lives Matter” reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. Think about that for a moment: Blue Lives Matter is a COUNTER-movement to complaints about human rights abuses. When people were angry about continued police killings of black people, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was one they could rally around. And “Blue Lives Matter” was a response to & dismissal of that rallying call. It does this in the same way that “White Lives Matter” dismisses the inherent value of Black lives.
For those who don’t remember, “Blue Lives Matter” started after the killing of two New York police officers shortly after a grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner with a choke hold after he was accused of selling loose cigarettes. His dying words, “I can’t breathe” became another rallying cry against police violence and systemic racism. Protests were taking place after Garner’s murder, as well as the recent police killing of Michael Brown. The man who murdered the officers was Black, and he ended up committing suicide afterward. Since the killings came a couple weeks after the decision to not charge Daniel Pantaleo (much like the shootings of the L.A. officers came after a week of unrest after the police killing of Dijon Kizzee, a black man who was stopped while riding his bike), many people assumed they were revenge killings against the police… But there is no proof of that. Anyway, that’s where the “Blue Lives Matter” human rights countermovement originated.
You can find the blue line flag at just about any place where a Black Lives Matter counter-protest is happening… And if you see it, you’re likely to see some confederate flags as well. The same sorts of people fly these two flags. We see this many places, but one which stood out was at the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, where white supremacists and neo-nazi demonstrators carried tiki torches and yelled “Jews will not replace us.” It has become a favorite symbol of law enforcement officers and angry white people alike. Here is what recently happened when a Pittsburg officer was told that his blue line flag mace mask was disrespectful to the U.S. flag…
The blue line flag has become a symbol of perceived persecution against police. They’re feeling “not supported.” Which — I’m sorry, but… NOT SUPPORTED?!? Police officers have got to be the most supported group in the country. They eat for free or at least for half price just about everywhere. They have qualified immunity. Their words & testimony weigh more in court. If they bust into the wrong house and kill an innocent woman, the COMMUNITY pays their $12 million civil suit settlement. How much more support do they want? I mean, good grief — When the two officers were shot in L.A., the president of the United States called for the death penalty for the Black man who shot them, and then — even though the shooter was by himself — he posted the video of the shooting and connected him to “Animals that need to be hit hard” (Which begs the question: To which “animals” is he referring here?). This interpretation of calls for increased accountability for police officers as “persecution” reminds me of how, when people are accustomed to privilege, they interpret those movements toward equality as “oppression.”
The rate of police officers killed while on duty is near historic lows. I have seen the video of the shooting, and it is scary & horrific. I understand seeing something like that and feeling scared & angry & under siege. But when — after a random criminal commits an act of violence against a member of a police force — people try to make police out to be an oppressed group, it is a lot like when the 5 year old boy (who was white) was shot and killed by a Black man, and white people everywhere threw their hands ups and screamed, “WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE OVER THIS?!?” Well, number one, it’s everywhere. Including your post about it. Number two, one is a random act of senseless violence committed by a criminal, and the other is part of a PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR, committed & condoned by systemic forces who are supposed to protecting citizens & upholding the law.
We live in a country with 4.25% of the world’s population, but 22% of the world’s prisoners. One out of every 100 Americans is in prison or in jail, and 33% of those prisoners are Black… even though only 12% of the U.S. population is Black. Black Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. THESE THINGS ARE SYSTEMIC.
When explaining why “All Lives Matter” is harmful garbage, it’s often explained that there is an understood “Too” at the end of Black Lives Matter. In a similar way — as a counter-reaction to BLM — “All Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter,” and “White Lives Matter” all have an understood “No,” in front of those phrases. If you’re wondering how the blue line flag is inseparable from the racism behind it, ask yourself this question: How would the people who fly this flag (or buy the Blue Line T-shirts and other merch) react if Black civil rights groups took a U.S. flag and changed all the colors around to make it about THEM, instead of ALL Americans? Or, if that doesn’t do it for you, go to any Blue Lives Matter/Thin Blue Line Facebook group, and read the comments & wade through the overt racism of the people who hang out there…
There is one more reason my time spent mired in madness on that Facebook page wasn’t a complete waste… There was this lovely, kind woman who reminded me that so many people are are scared & hurting right now, and that she felt it was her responsibility “to model and express empathy, understanding and most of all, support,” in the hopes that people might learn from her example and show the same level of support, advocacy, & understanding for People of color. Which is so true & beautiful. At the same time, if a group of people is experiencing harassment, brutality, & oppression from a group in a position of power, and — when they cry out that their lives MATTER — you respond with “Nah… The powerful people’s lives matter,” you’ll have to forgive me if I see it as less of a statement of support for the powerful group, and more of a statement of opposition to the value of the lives of the ones being oppressed. Instead of police feeling like equal members of our community, having a different flag encourages an “Us vs. Them” mentality… And the “Them” has historically been folks who are black and brown. When I see someone flying that blue line flag, I don’t see “support for police officers.” I see support for systemic racism.
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