You may have seen the flag above as you are out and about. If you live in West St. Louis County, you may have seen it waving proudly on a row of light posts fronting the BMW of West County showroom on Manchester Blvd., alternating with the traditional American flag. A few folks in St. Louis County display them in front of their houses. Most of these displays, at least those that I’ve seen, also have signs declaring their support of the police which are far more common.
The flag is known as a “Thin Blue Line” flag or, as it has been controversially labeled more recently, utilizing the phrase most often employed in opposition to “Black Lives Matter,” a Blue Lives Matter flag. The thin blue line stands for the idea, according to Wikipedia, “that law enforcement is a Thin Blue Line that stands between chaos and order or between criminals and the potential victims of crime, and it is primarily used to show solidarity with police.”
Where’s the controversy, you ask? We all support the police. If government is to be effective it must have a well-funded enforcement arm. It’s that well funded part that should ensure that it’s also well-directed and in possession of sufficient funds to hire the very best candidates and guarantee that they serve all the people in an accountable and transparent fashion.
But for some, the fact that a policeman did it, whatever it is – and as long as it’s not done to them – means it’s okay. That attitude certainly means that we can hire our police lots cheaper, and since plenty of fools think keeping taxes hyper-low is the name of the game, no matter how it may endanger civic well-being, one can see the appeal. There is also the tendency to, in the words of conservative Federalist contributor Rachael Lu, “virtue-cloak” a profession that we respect, insisting, against any emergent evidence to the contrary, that all members of the profession are what “we know they should be.”
In this regard, I am reminded of many of the policemen I’ve encountered in my life – some of them family members and their friends. Most have been conscientious, kind people who just want to do a difficult job well. But I have to admit that some – including some of those family members – lacked the mental frame of reference necessary to facilitate that desire. This is America: there’s always the question of overt or unconscious bias. There’s also the fact that there are lots of sad losers who are attracted to occupations that let them throw their weight around. It’s gratifying to little men to play at being the big man. Serious educational requirements, solid, ongoing training and rigorous psychological screening could easily address such problems.
But you get what you pay for. Support good policing standards with cold cash and you might get better policing.
The situation is also complicated by the fact that for many citizens the chaos and criminal behavior from which police have to hold that thin blue line has a black face. And they want their armed representatives to employ whatever force necessary to keep that black face where it belongs – out of their line of vision. These are, by and large, the people who have tried to distract us from Black Lives Matter concerns by elevating the police to, in the words of Lu, “quasi-sacerdotal” status.
Evidence? Remember when you saw your first Blue Lives Matter sign or flag? I don’t know about you, but I never saw any of these devices until just about the time black folks took to the streets to demand accountability from a police force they experience as out-of control instruments of white repression. When black people began to use cell phones to document police behavior, the Blue Lives Matter train seems to have well and truly pushed out of the station, tooting it’s big old dog whistle loud and clear.
Blue lives do matter. But the fact that they are ever at risk is simply a given of the job policemen have chosen to perform – and another argument for better pay and benefits along with the outsize power over people lives that we now grant them. But hey, black lives still matter just as much as they did before elderly white folks in my neighborhood started to tie blue ribbons around the trees in their yards. And the fact that black lives are at risk, not because of their freely-chosen but risky jobs, but because they are demanding that the police serve them too rather than catering to the the prejudices of a shrinking segment of the population ought to help put those Blue Lives emblems in the proper perspective.
What really scares me about all this furor over whose lives matter? We’ve got a president sending out authoritarian feelers while encouraging police brutality, an Attorney General who makes no bones that he shares the belief that the worst criminals on the other side of the thin blue line are African-Americans, while supposedly solid, salt-of-the-earth Middle Americans find that the American flag, the one that stands for all citizens, regardless of religion or race, just won’t do the job any more. Instead they hoist flags arguably meant to encourage a special, protected police status in the face of blue line rampage. And don’t let them fool you. They understand what they’re saying when those flags go up.
By the way – maybe someone ought to give the proprietors of BMW of West County an earful. It’s their right to display whatever flag they choose, but it’s our free-speech right to let them know if we’re offended.