What Occurred When a College District Banned Skinny Blue Line Flags
In late October, directors in a suburban New York faculty district informed workers that a few of their attire was making college students really feel uncomfortable, and even threatened.
At problem have been masks displaying the so-called skinny blue line flag, which alerts assist for the police however which has more and more been used to show opposition to the Black Lives Matter motion, which rose in opposition to racism in policing.
Sporting the image violated a district coverage prohibiting workers from expressing political speech, officers stated. The brand, a black-and-white model of the American flag with a single blue stripe at its heart, may not be worn by employees members.
Days later, a gaggle of workers of the district, in Pelham, N.Y., appeared at work carrying shirts bearing the phrase “Vote” and the names of Black individuals who had been killed by the police, prompting accusations of hypocrisy and political bias.
The ensuing controversy has divided Pelham, an prosperous and principally white Westchester County city of about 12,000 individuals simply north of New York Metropolis.
The tense debate exemplifies the political tinderbox that a lot of the USA has grow to be, the place an emblem on a masks or a patch on a sleeve can ignite a dispute that consumes a group.
On the heart of the battle is an emblem that has come to imply vastly various things to completely different individuals, a black, white and blue Rorschach check whose significance continues to shift amid a seamless nationwide reckoning over racism and police violence.
“It made lots of people upset right here, clearly,” stated Ralph DeMasi, a college security coordinator who was informed to not put on the flag. “Clearly a directive was given. One aspect adopted it, whereas one other aspect was allowed to precise their views.”
Fb discussions have grown heated. Neighbors staked out clear positions and lined up within the chilly to talk at a public assembly. College workers and oldsters stated they’d gotten threatening messages because the district attracted nationwide media consideration.
“Individuals are taking this difficult line,” stated Solange Hansen, a Black and Latina girl who moved to Pelham final 12 months and whose teenage son is a pupil there. “Hastily, in a single day, you see these blue line flags on individuals’s lawns. You see them in individuals’s companies. And that makes it actually arduous for the individuals of coloration.”
On Friday night, The Pelham Examiner, a neighborhood information outlet, printed a letter written by a Pelham highschool senior, Nadine LeeSang, that expressed assist for the district’s coverage and stated that the flag reminded college students of coloration of “racist experiences they’ve had” with regulation enforcement.
“No person was actually speaking about how college students felt uncomfortable, and it was sort of being dismissed,” Ms. LeeSang, 17, who’s Black and Asian, stated in an interview. Her letter was signed by 15 different individuals, most of them additionally college students.
The talk over the flag’s that means has performed out throughout the nation, notably after the widespread protests this summer time over police brutality and systemic racism.
An Ohio faculty district banned it after a soccer participant displayed it earlier than a recreation; a college in one other Ohio district suspended college students for carrying it onto the sector. There have been opposing rallies in a Massachusetts city the place officers ordered the flag faraway from hearth vehicles.
Those that assist the flag say it has lengthy been used to honor regulation enforcement officers who sacrificed their lives, and that it’s not meant as a political assertion.
“It signifies a memorial, a connection between officers killed within the line of responsibility and those that proceed with their duties within the current,” stated Carla Caccavale, a Pelham resident who has 4 youngsters enrolled in district faculties and whose father, a New York Metropolis Transit detective, was killed whereas making an attempt to cease a theft when Ms. Caccavale was an toddler.
Ms. Caccavale has made sweatshirts honoring her father’s reminiscence that embrace a skinny blue line patch. Though she initially made them just for her household and one other household, she has begun to promote them to assist police-related charities.
When faculty employees members have been informed they might not put on the flag, her sweatshirts have been included within the ban. She stated the choice baffled her.
“You need to have a look at the intention of the sweatshirts,” she stated.
However supporters of the district’s ban on the flag stated the emblem couldn’t be divorced from its present context as an emblem for the pro-police Blue Lives Matter motion that sprang up in response to the Black Lives Matter motion.
The flag’s critics additionally say the picture has acquired a racist connotation after being carried at demonstrations by hate teams, most notably a Charlottesville, Va., rally in 2017, the place white nationalists staged a weekend of protests that turned violent.
“Now that you simply see this flag flown alongside this different flags and racist symbols, it’s very arduous to not say, ‘Nicely, that’s a racist image,’” Annemarie Garcia, who has two youngsters enrolled in Pelham faculties, stated. “Even when that’s not what it meant to you initially.”
In latest months, the flag has grow to be a extra frequent sight at pro-police demonstrations round New York and elsewhere. It hung prominently behind President Trump at a marketing campaign rally in Wisconsin, and the marketing campaign has bought merchandise bearing the image.
Mr. DeMasi, the Pelham faculty worker who was informed to not put on the flag, stated that he didn’t join it to white supremacists. However he acknowledged that it had grow to be a political image.
“Clearly, you’ve seen caravans with the Trump flag behind pickup vehicles after which the skinny blue line,” Mr. DeMasi, a former police officer, stated. “I feel possibly individuals had a very good intention, but it surely ended up giving the that means of the skinny blue line a black eye.”
However the ban on Ms. Caccavale’s sweatshirts provoked a ferocious letter from the president of the Detectives’ Endowment Affiliation, a New York Metropolis police union, who accused Cheryl Champ, the district’s superintendent, of “perverting views” of scholars and turning them into “cop-haters.”
The letter touched off an onslaught of protection by native and nationwide media shops, together with Fox Information, the place Ms. Caccavale has appeared twice.
A lot of the protection has targeted on Ms. Caccavale and the varsity board’s coverage, to the frustration of some who stated they feared that the issues of nonwhite college students have been being ignored.
The college district wouldn’t present particulars in regards to the college students who have been concerned, together with the variety of complaints or the ages of those that had filed them.
Ms. Garcia, who volunteers for the district, stated she had heard a number of college students clarify their views in regards to the flag to employees members however she declined to offer particulars, citing privateness issues.
“You’ve adolescents who really stood up and expressed their concern,” Ms. Garcia, who identifies as white and Hispanic, stated. “And these will not be adolescents who appear like nearly all of the children in Pelham.”
At a college board assembly on Wednesday, Dr. Champ stated that when she started to listen to complaints in regards to the flag, she researched it and concluded that it shouldn’t be worn. When she obtained complaints in regards to the shirts that stated “Vote,” she did the identical, she stated.
“I apologize for not imposing this coverage evenly at its outset, which I acknowledge created an look of being one-sided,” she stated.
A number of individuals who spoke on the assembly in assist of Ms. Caccavale urged directors to carry the police into school rooms and foster a dialogue in regards to the image.
Ms. Hansen rejected that suggestion, saying it ignored the emotions of kids like hers, who could be threatened to see officers in faculties.
“Why pressure that on our children?” she requested. “If even one child stated ‘I’m afraid of that image,’ isn’t that sufficient?”
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