June 1, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Thin Blue Line Is Cracking. Good
Cops demonstrate two ways to engage Americans struggling for freedom.
This photograph, taken Sunday, features the finest from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, outside Cincinnati, Ohio. They are running up a “Thin Blue Line” flag to replace a stolen American flag to honor a Cincinnati cop who had been shot.
Its defenders, who are incorrect, say the “Thin Blue Line” flag symbolizes police departments as the last line of defense between order and anarchy. Its critics, who are correct, say the flag represents tyranny, the use of lethal force for the most minor of offenses, and the moral and political worldview in which might makes right.
On the one hand, cops flew a “Thin Blue Line” flag. On the other, cops “renewed their vows” to the cities they serve.
The flag’s manufacturer, Thin Blue Line USA, told USA Today it does not represent “racism, hatred, and bigotry.” Rather it represents unity and solidarity. “We want to get rid of that rivalry between law enforcement and citizens,” VP Pete Forhan said.
If that were the case, one might think Hamilton County deputies would run up that flag along with the flag of the United States. That wasn’t the case. Instead, one symbol of unity replaced another with the implications of that replacement flying for all to see.
Meanwhile, others were attempting, in quite a different way, to “get rid of the rivalry between law enforcement and citizens,” as cities nationally saw myriad protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. In New Haven, where I am writing these words, our chief of police held a press briefing Saturday outside police headquarters during which he and a few dozen cops, of all hues, “renewed our vow to the city of New Haven” by reciting their oath.
In unison, they said:
“I solemnly swear that I will faithfully and impartially perform the duties of a law enforcement officer to the best of my ability and according to law, and that I will at all times try to use the power entrusted to me as such officer for the best interest of the city, so help me God.”
New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes said:
You will hear the voices of the men and women of the New Haven Police Department, but these are also the voices of law enforcement officers around the country that do their jobs every single day, honoring their oath and their commitment to their cities. So, today we speak for us, and we speak for them (my italics).
Chief Reyes was correct. In cities and localities around the country, according to the Post, cops were not only joining peaceful protesters in denouncing a fellow police officer’s murder of an unarmed black man; some were even taking a knee in apparent homage to Colin Kaepernick, the former pro-football player who famously, or infamously, knelt during the national anthem to protest white police violence.
These cops were expressing unity and solidarity in a very different way from the sheriff’s deputies in Hamilton County, Ohio. The latter sought unity in terms of dominance and submission—you are a friend or you are an enemy. The former sought unity in democratic terms—we rise and fall as one nation under God. At least, the “Thin Blue Line” seems thinner after last weekend. At most, perhaps it’s cracking.
Perhaps it’s cracking because the rest of the country is coming around the seeing they were right. Kaepernick was right. Black Lives Matter was right. Every black person who ever said cops target them just for being black, they were right. That was hard for some white people to see while a black man was president. But with a tyrant like Donald Trump—who encourages violence against minorities; who inspired the white supremacists in Charlottesville; who sucks up to the world’s dictators; and who is now inspiring right-wing domestic terrorists infiltrating protests to set buildings on fire and let black people take the blame—it’s clear now. They were right. They were right.
Perhaps it’s cracking because the rest of the country is coming around the seeing they were right. Colin Kaepernick was right. Black Lives Matter was right. They were right.
And this weekend’s protests, or rather the violent police reaction to them, deepened the point more. Videos show cops shooting rubber bullets at people’s heads (one bullet shattered the eyeball of a photojournalist); pepper spraying protesters from their cruisers on their way to the scene of a 18-wheeler plowing into a throng; arresting reporters; and driving a police cruiser into a crowd. Various and sundry, and inexplicable, videos show cops in body armor beating people. Everything Black Lives Matter said was true seemed clear as the “Thin Blue Line” flag flying proudly in Ohio.
Pointing out the apparent cracks in the “Thin Blue Line” is important, because some people, starting with the president of the United States, want to portray the violence of last weekend’s protests in binary terms—between order and disorder, civilization and anarchy, good guys and bad guys—instead of what it was—justice versus injustice, democracy versus fascism, freedom versus barbarism. Some people, starting with Donald Trump, may use those terms to achieve fascist ends. I do no overstate one iota.
US Attorney General Bill Barr portrayed protesters as professional leftists bent on destroying the republic. This morning, he deployed “riot teams” to Washington, D.C., and Miami to “quell violent clashes between protesters and police,” according to USA Today. During a conference call with governors, the president said: “You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time,” according to audio obtained by CBS News. “They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate. You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.”
He’s wrong, of course. The struggle for freedom never stops.
Even some in the “Thin Blue Line” understand that.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.