National backlash after ASUCD commission calls flag in support of fallen officer “anti-Black,” “disrespectful”

National backlash after ASUCD commission calls flag in support of fallen officer “anti-Black,” “disrespectful”

Photo Credits: MEENA RUGH / AGGIE

Senate meeting cancelled due to safety concerns following national headlines

The ASUCD Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission (ECAC) is receiving national backlash and widespread controversy after a post on the group’s now-deleted Facebook page called out and criticize community members for posts featuring what the commission called “the Blue Lives Matter flag” in support of the 22-year-old Davis police officer who was killed last Thursday. ECAC called the flag “anti-Black and disrespectful.”

ECAC’s Facebook post went up the day after police officer Natalie Corona was shot and killed and has since made national headlines. Fox News, The Washington Examiner, The Sacramento Bee and CBS News are among the sites which have addressed the post on the commission’s since-deleted page. Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren also addressed the situation on both Twitter and on air.

Online responses to articles about ECAC’s post include threats of violence to commission members. A photo of ECAC commission members is also making the rounds on social media.

The university stated that while it does respect the group’s free speech rights, it does not agree with the sentiments expressed by the commission.

Melissa Blouin, the director of News and Media Relations at UC Davis, said via email that the university had received “numerous calls” asking for the expulsion of ECAC or the punishment of its members.

“As a public institution, we do not have the legal authority to expel our students for expressing their concerns,” Blouin wrote. “The ECAC students exercised their free speech rights; those rights are protected under both federal and state laws. ECAC removed their post quickly and regret posting it. We are disappointed by the timing of the students’ statement, but we will stand by their constitutionally protected right to express themselves […] The comments made by ECAC are not representative of UC Davis.”

After individuals both inside and outside the Davis community expressed interest in attending an ASUCD meeting and responding to the commission’s post, this week’s weekly Senate meeting, scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 17, was cancelled.

“There are numerous factors that led the Senate to this decision, including this is a time for reflection and the [other] being safety,” said ASUCD Business Manager Greg Ortiz via email.

Corona was shot and killed by 48-year-old Kevin Douglas Limbaugh on the evening of Jan. 10. Corona was addressing a minor collision near 5th and D streets when Limbaugh rode up to the accident on a bicycle and began shooting her repeatedly before firing at random once she fell.

Limbaugh later shot and killed himself in a standoff with police. Corona’s death is the first in the Davis Police Department since 1959, and has sent shockwaves throughout the community.

Corona’s Facebook profile picture depicts her holding an American flag with a blue stripe on it. The flag doubles as a symbol for both Thin Blue Line USA, which aims to inspire “support across the country for our American Law Enforcement Officers” and the Blue Lives Matter group, which deems itself “America’s largest law enforcement support community” and sprung up in the wake of what it calls “the lies of Black Lives Matter, the media, and politicians.” Critics say that Blue Lives Matter is a reactionary backlash to Black Lives Matter that is “profoundly misrepresentative and disrespectful.”

Photos of the flag, as well as a photo of Corona holding the flag, have been widely circled on social media in support of the fallen officer. The flag is also ubiquitous in and around downtown Davis and the community — small flags are tied to the trees lining Russell Boulevard with blue ribbons in support of Corona.

ECAC criticized the use of the flag in a Facebook post on Jan. 11.

“We see it necessary to call-out all community members who continue to post and disseminate images of the Blue Lives Matter flag online,” the post read. “We would like to directly address that this flag represents an attempt by law enforcement to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement.”

In a Facebook post condemning ECAC’s post, ASUCD President Michael Gofman utilized a statement from Thin Blue Line USA, which said: “We reject, in the strongest possible terms, any association of our flag with racism, hatred, and bigotry. To use it in such a way tarnishes what it and our nation believe in. The thin blue line flag stands for the sacrifice law enforcement officers of this nation make each day. We ask our nation to hold faith with those that defend the thin blue line.”

Gofman said online that he “wholeheartedly condemn[s]” ECAC for the “disgusting post” before urging the group to remove the post and issue a formal apology.

Thin Blue Line USA issued a statement which appeared in The Sacramento Bee explaining that the blue line on the flag represents the men and women who comprise law enforcement and “hold the divide between order and chaos” — the line is “not political,” the group emphasized.

The symbol’s origin was the “thin red line,” which refers to a “historical British Army battle formation,” according to the group’s statement in The Bee. Thin Blue Line USA has also previously rejected the co-opting of its imagery in the neo-Nazi clashes that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, 2017.

In his Facebook post in response to ECAC’s position, Gofman stated that Corona’s “only crime was being a police officer.”

“[It’s] easy to sit on the third floor of the Memorial Union when there are at least 100 brave men and women in blue between you and the shooter,” he wrote. “It is easy to argue hypotheticals, politics, and ideology when you’re in safety. I am ashamed that some of these same people, protected by the very officers that they are condemning, have the audacity to politicize the loss of a young officer.”

The Sacramento Chapter of Black Lives Matter has defended ECAC’s position on the Blue Lives Matter flag, saying that “the phrase ‘blue lives matter’ is simply a racist, reactionary clapback to the very real human rights struggle of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Neither Michael Gofman, the ASUCD President, nor Rina Singh, the chair of ECAC, could be reached for a direct comment about this issue.

A candlelit vigil was held for Corona on Jan. 12, with over 1,000 individuals in attendance. A memorial service for Corona organized by UC Davis is scheduled to take place this Friday, Jan. 18, at the ARC Pavilion at 11 a.m.

By Rebecca Bihn-Wallace — campus@theaggie.org

Assistant Campus News Editor Kenton Goldsby contributed to this report.