Published by an Anonymous Student
This week, I learned that my hometown debuted a painted blue line in the middle of the road in front of our municipal building, which houses the library, government offices, police department, and other administrative offices. Multiple government officials posted about it on their official Facebook pages, including pictures like this one from our Committeeman. They presented their action as a tribute to fallen law enforcement officers.
Under the Facebook post, there were tens of comments praising the efforts of law enforcement and the symbolic recognition of the sacrifice made by police officers and other first responders. A friend from high school was the only comment asking if any efforts are being made to improve conditions for veterans and police officers, rather than this seemingly political effort. She received very little response from this Committeeman, who simply told her to ask law enforcement officers how they viewed the symbol.
Wikipedia explains that the “thin blue line” is meant to signify how police officers separate the community from the criminals. I have to question who the criminals are. It creates a clear binary of “the bad guys” and the “good guys.” Immediately the concepts of “law and order” and the War on Crime, policies which systemically marginalized people of color (see Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow), came to mind. It didn’t seem to be an honorary symbol to lives lost in the line of duty, as my local government officials had portrayed through social media, but rather an insistence on reinforcing the idea of police as separating the innocent, naïve community from a dangerous criminal presence.
I immediately started researching the symbolism behind this campaign, and found results from the Blue Lives Matter group. Blue Lives Matter, as a movement, serves to present #BlackLivesMatter as an anti-police group, a narrative expertly deconstructed by Trevor Noah of The Daily Show. This action of painting a blue line to support law enforcement without mentioning racial inequality, police brutality, or #BlackLivesMatter is a clear statement from my local government undermining the national discussion about systematic racism. In addition, services that actually would help law enforcement, such as increasing mental health access, diversity training, and community engagement, were completely left out of the discussion.
So then my friend wasn’t too far off in designating this action taken by local government as a political statement. As the daughter of a former first responder, I believe that sacrifices are made by individuals who serve as first responders. However, as a budding social activist, I think it is impossible and unethical to ignore the struggles facing people of color in the communities protected by these officers.
How do we show our support for law enforcement without ignoring systemic issues present in our communities? How do we honor lives lost in the line of duty without dishonoring those lost to police brutality? How do we destroy this us vs. them mentality creating a binary between law enforcement and people of color?