Letter: Racist symbolism behind the Blue Lives Matter flag
Editor of the Reformer,
At the rally against police brutality on Sunday, May 31, I saw a police officer across the street wearing a face mask with what appeared to be the Blue Lives Matter flag on it. On the surface, "blue lives matter" seems like a harmless phrase that brings attention to how dangerous the job of a police officer is. However, the slogan only became popularized after the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction, and it aims to draw attention away from the urgent problem of anti-Black police violence by equating it to the dangers police officers face on their jobs.
This is a false and dangerous equivalence. First, while it can be dangerous, being a police officer is a chosen profession. Black people cannot retire from being Black or choose to not be Black when they grow up because of the violence they face. Police officers can. Second, the "prejudice" against police is not based on unfounded fears like racism is, but is rather a reaction to the systemic violence that police as an institution commit against Black people and that largely goes ignored and unpunished. Police are public employees, and if they are harming rather than helping their communities, there should be consequences. This is not discrimination; it is how having a job works, especially a job that gives someone access to power and violence. Third, it shifts focus and blame from the problem that actually needs to be addressed: racism. Black people are being murdered and assaulted by the police almost every day, and by saying "blue lives matter" as a response to protests against police violence, the racism that Black people experience is minimized along with the police's role in creating that violence in the first place.
I do not know who this officer in Brattleboro is, but I find it incredibly disturbing that someone would wear this to a rally protesting police violence, and that this person has the power to enforce the law while remaining ignorant of what his power and that flag entails.
This is not just a matter of personal expression. The symbolic meaning of the flag exists regardless of this officer's personal opinions and should be taken seriously. I am aware of the possibility that this was not the Blue Lives Matter flag, but the "police flag," but just like any symbol, the official meaning does not reduce its effect to be a covert symbol of white supremacy, even if unintentional. Wearing a blue lives matter flag or a flag that is visually similar at a racial justice rally creates a feeling of fear among protestors and signals that this movement and Black lives don't matter as much as shielding police from accountability. If, as the Brattleboro chief of police said, "it is critical for the community to trust their police officers," then police officers need to demonstrate with their actions that they deserve our trust.
Guilford, June 30
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