Mourn Officer Corona — but don’t support Blue Lives Matter and the Thin Blue Line
49. That’s the number of unarmed black Americans who were killed by police in 2017. It’s a number that has hung at the back of many minds since police officer Natalie Corona was killed. Since her murder, the “Thin Blue Line” flag has adorned much of Downtown Davis, hanging in such regularly-visited places as the Chamber of Commerce and the University of Beer.
When a student group raised a minor objection to the memorial image, which displayed the slain officer waving the flag, citing its potential to hurt students of color, there was fierce backlash against their grievance. Many who disagreed claimed that the objection was insensitive, that there were no racial undertones to the flag or the “Blue Lives Matter” movement and that even raising this complaint was an insult to her sacrifice.
I want to be clear: Officer Corona did not deserve to die, and mourning her is absolutely not a racist act. Whatever structural problems there may be with the police, we should strive for a world where as few people as possible die. But working toward that better future runs contrary to flying the flag of “Blue Lives Matter.” While the phrase “thin blue line” is not a new one, it has been reinvigorated in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which police violence apologists see as part of an increasing threat to law enforcement.
44. That’s the number of on-duty police officers who were shot and killed in 2017. Despite the police narrative of a “war on cops,” less of them are shot to death in one year than unarmed black Americans, a group which, unlike police, do not sign up for a job where death is a clear possibility. “Blue Lives Matter” is a parody of “Black Lives Matter,” a movement designed to continue the fight against American structural racism, of which police violence is a part. It’s a slogan whose message is akin to “I can breathe,” a phrase that appeared on the shirts of police supporters after the murder of Eric Garner, where the man was choked to death. The Thin Blue Line flag has come to symbolize the contemporary pro-police movement — and that movement is unquestionably racist. It’s not a coincidence that alt-right marchers waved the flag as they attended their infamous, murderous Charlottesville rally. Even if this flag began with good intentions, it has become a racist and anti-accountability symbol. How can you blame students for being afraid of police and their symbols given that history?
Officer Corona died as a police officer, and it’s only natural that memorials for her would acknowledge that fact. But to call any criticism of the appearance of those memorials “insensitive” is remarkably hypocritical. It’s insensitive to wave a flag that signifies the renewed fight against holding police accountable. It’s insensitive to mentally ill and queer students, who worry that they could end up like Scout Schultz, a nonbinary student at Georgia Tech who was shot dead while armed only with a multitool, desperately asking to be killed when what they needed was help. It’s insensitive to anyone who’s worried about ending up like Daniel Shaver, who was issued contradictory orders and killed when unable to comply. And it’s insensitive to black students who fear that this year, they could be one of those 49 — another black body dead on the street because of a bit of bad luck.
Mourn Officer Corona. But don’t support Blue Lives Matter and the Thin Blue Line if you truly believe in the importance of all lives, or you’ll erase many students’ very reasonable fears.
Written by: Tynan Brooks
The writer is a black first-year English major and a member of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at UC Davis.
I call BS. I am willing to concede, for the sake of argument, that Blue Lives Matter as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement is not really useful. However you cannot deny the truth of the statement. Blue lives DO matter. Of course there really isn’t much of a dispute about that whereas America’s fraught racial history gives special urgency to the statement that Black Lives (ALSO) Matter.
Nor am I much of a fan of the phrase Thin Blue Line. Whereas for Police it might call to mind the idea that they stand as a line between civilization and criminality, it also has the meaning that Police are expected to NOT “rat” on their fellow police officers for misconduct.
However, just because some segment of the community may be hurt or offended is not reason enough in and of itself to call for taking down Thin Blue Line flags. There are many people in Davis who I suspect are offended by the BLM movement, but their offense is not justification for taking down or refusing to display BLM banners. Nor is it truthful to argue that the “contemporary pro-police movement — . . . is unquestionably racist.” There are a lot of people who are pro police. They are not all racists. I assume most police officers are “pro police” I assume even ardent BLM activists are “pro police”. I don’t know of anybody who sincerely wants to abolish the police. The communities that most need police protection are the ones that are most plagued by crime. Those communities, to our country’s discredit, are disproportionately populated by people of color. While those communities may want to reform police culture I doubt very much they are “anti police” as a whole.
Assuming the Thin Blue Line flag began with good intentions, is there any reason to believe that Officer Corona had anything other than good intentions when she was photographed with the flag? Given that that image of her is so closely associated with her young and tragically short life why is it hard to believe that posting those flags in remembrance of her was done in good faith to celebrate her life? If it was done in good faith why and how do you argue that those flags adorning Davis are racist anti-accountability symbols? Nor is it a question of “blaming” students for being afraid of police and their symbols. Who blamed the students for their feelings? I know I didn’t. Where they got blowback was when they insisted that their fragile feelings trumped the rights of other people to remember and honor Officer Corona. If you could cite me any evidence that these flags were placed with the intent to project a racist message I would have more sympathy. Symbols and words have no magic power. Context and the intent behind them are often more important than the thing in and of themselves.
It is insensitive to argue that the flag “signifies the renewed fight against holding police accountable.” That MAY be what some people see, but it is not irrefutably and only that. It is insensitive to argue that Officer Corona, when she displayed that flag, was “unquestionably racist.” It is insensitive to mentally ill, queer and black students to argue that they can’t see a viewpoint different from their own and not be offended.
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