The Haunting Truth Behind Blue Lives Matter

Becky Wilson

On February 26th, 2012 a 17-year-old boy, Treyvon Martin was fatally shot by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. On July 13th, 2013 Zimmerman was declared not guilty. With that verdict came protests, and with those protests came the start of a movement. People chanted three words and typed out one hashtag-- Black Lives Matter. This new movement was created by Alicia Garza, Patriesee Cullors, and Opal Tometi upon the release of Treyvon Martin’s killer. Black Lives Matter “is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes” (Black Lives Matter). The movement is about bringing light to the injustices that black people have faced, and especially those killed at the hands of the police.  But how did we go from black lives as the focus, to hearing about how 'blue' lives matter more? To get a better understanding of the Blue Lives Matter movement, I did in-depth research about the flag, the origins of the movement, and even interviewed a retired police officer.

 

 On August 9th, 2014 an unarmed black man, Micheal Brown, was shot and later died at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. Naturally, protests broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, and once again people took to the streets chanting “Black Lives Matter.” While the feelings of the protestors might feel valid, the situation came with pushback from those who were in support of the police. The argument presented was that Darren Wilson was just “doing his job” when he shot Micheal Brown (Archive Blue Lives Matter). Through this notion came the support of other police officers and those who have family members who are police officers. This support reached an even higher level when NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu were killed on December 20th, 2014 by a man who was alleged to hold a large amount of animosity towards police because of the killings of Mike Brown, Treyvon Martin, and Eric Garner. He had been tweeting all day in a threatening way towards the police (Fieldstadt). Thus, the Blue Lives Matter Movement was created. Blue Lives Matter was founded by Christopher Brinkley, Joseph Imperatrice, and Carlos Delgado on December 20th, 2014. While Black Lives Matter is a movement that strives for change in matters of policing, Blue Lives Matter is more of an organization created to protect the status quo in these areas. It is a reaction against the ideas and momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

 

According to the Blue Lives Matter website, “Blue Lives Matter is a media company, founded and run entirely by active and retired law enforcement officers...We desire to change these wrongs to law enforcement and once again [to] shed a positive light on America’s heroes to help boost morale and gain society’s much-needed support.” The “wrongs” in this instance refers to the “bullying” and negativity that police officers have faced throughout their careers. The point of the birth of Blue Lives Matter comes with an unnerving implication: it was made as a response to Black Lives Matter. And while the killings of Ramos and Liu were associated with Black Lives Matter, there is no indication that the actions conducted were supported by organizers of Black Lives Matter.

Any movement, political operation, or established occasion is usually accompanied by a flag so it’s only natural that Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter also have one. There are different variations of the Black Lives Matter flag.

 

However, the most known one is fairly simple with a black background and white letters with the inversion of black words on white on the “lives” part of the logo as if to emphasize how important it is to acknowledge that there are human beings behind a skin color. The flag is simple and it graphically represents what it stands for: Black Lives Matter.

The Blue Lives Matter flag, on the other hand, holds a very curious history behind it. The main part of the symbolism in this flag, a wholesale remaking of the American flag, is a prominent “blue line” that cuts across the bottom third of the flag. But where does this concept of a blue line come from? Oddly enough, it begins in the 18th century. The thin blue line was originally a red line and seen in Europe with the British army in their red coats lining up to form a battle formation as early as 1854 (Chammah and Aspinwall). From that military background, the idea of a warlike strategy to conquer enemies was used in other contexts. The idea of “thin” came to represent the very small number of “good guys” trying to hold back forces of war, of evil, and of destruction. This idea of a thin line of soldiers was used in various contexts including a ‘thin white line’ white line representing church leaders or emergency medical staff, and the thin blue lines of schoolboys in their blazers (Chammah and Aspinwall).

 

In 1922, the phrase ‘thin blue line’ for police caught on and was used more often when the New York commissioner, Richard Enright used it in his speeches. Later in the 1950s, a TV show called “The Thin Blue Line” aired and arranged by the Los Angeles Police chief, William H. Parker, as it was about his department. However, Parker was also well-known for being a racist as he often said things like immigrants were “not far removed from the wild tribes of Mexico”. In reference to the Watt Riots, he called the black people who were protesting “monkeys in a zoo” (Chammah and Aspinwall). His idea of the “thin blue line” seemed to be the protection of Americans from the forces of immigrants, black people, and violent criminals. The last big boost that happened with the thin blue line was in 1988 when filmmaker Errol Morris made a film about the police and the intense trial of an innocent man who ended up on death row. After that the thin blue line became the Blue Lives Matter flag some 33 years later, interestingly right after the time of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The thin blue line is forever associated with the Blue Lives Matter flag, and because of that, there is a lot to unpack. The originator of the flag, college student Andrew Jacob, recalls a night in 2014 full of contemplation as he thought about the deaths of Mike Brown and Treyvon Martin at the hands of the police. Jacob thought that since black Lives Matter had a flag, then it was only appropriate that the police had a flag to support them.

At this point in time, a Blue Lives Matter flag already existed except that it was a European version and it was just a black background with a blue stripe (Sharlet).

                      American Blue Lives Matter Flag

                                                                                                                                   European Thin Blue Line Flag

Jacob then made an Americanized version. In this version that we all have come to know, the flag is American and there are black and white stripes with the blue line running through it. There is a deeper meaning behind this flag because the bottom half of the flag represents the criminals and the top half represents the citizens and the blue line is law enforcement as stated by Jacob (Sharlet).

 

The parallels to the idea of a military strategy of the British redcoats are clearly mirrored here. For many who don’t know the flag’s symbolism, it may be flown innocently and just in support of the police, but there is something much more sinister beneath the surface.

To dig further into the subject, I sat down on a zoom call with retired police officer Brent Cornwall who had been on the police force in Idaho since 1975 and retired some years ago. I wanted to see his viewpoint on the Blue Lives Matter flag. It felt like things were falling into place as I talked to Cornwall. Andrew Jacob, the creator of the  Blue Lives Matter flag said something along the same lines as Brent Cornwall. I asked Cornwall, “Have you ever seen anything like the blue lives matter flag before the Black Lives Matter movement started?” he took a contemplative beat to reply, “I never saw that I never did.” 


We all try to move through our lives as easily as possible, but we all have something that we see and suddenly your day is flipped on its head. For many black people, this is what it’s like seeing a Blue Lives Matter flag in their neighbor’s yard. I know this because I’ve lived it. I drove into my driveway one afternoon and I saw a huge Blue Lives Matter flag hanging from my neighbor’s flagpole. I was shocked. It felt as if I couldn’t breathe. It didn’t make sense. How could my neighbor fly THAT flag when I was right next door? He was always so kind to me and always asked if I was okay. After some further thought on the matter, I realized what it was: ignorance. And even though I felt sad and betrayed, I understood. On the outside, it looks like a simple way to support police officers, and in a way it is. But inextricably linked to this is this flag’s use as a comment against the Black Lives Matter Movement as it gained its prominence in counter-protests during the summer of 2020. For this reason, to people of color, it seems unconscionable that people fly their Blue Lives Matter flag when more and more black people are killed by police. For this reason, it feels like an attack when the flag is seen flying off the back of someone’s truck, sometimes next to a confederate flag.


There is a meaning behind this flag that may not be intended by all who fly it, but that it certainly carries. This flag creates division. The official Blue Lives Matter page traces its history and the words written are almost a dare: 

“Officer [Darren] Wilson was forced to defend his life by shooting Brown. In the months that followed, agitators spread outright lies and distortions of the truth about Officer Wilson and all police officers. The media catered to movements such as Black Lives Matter, whose goal was the vilification of law enforcement.”(Blue Lives Matter archive).

Through their own words, it is Blue Lives Matter proponents who create false narratives and continue to paint people as criminals and rioters who just want justice and equality.


  A Blue Lives Matter flag is flown for a person who chooses to put on a blue uniform every day.


A Black Lives Matter flag is flown in solidarity with those who cannot choose their skin color, but seek equal justice under the law. 


The Black Lives Matter flag is flown because black people want police officers to be held accountable for their actions and not be treated as heroes across the board, but those whose job in the community is ‘to serve and protect.’ The Blue Lives Matter flag, more often than not, seems to be flown to antagonize and show rejection of those basic values. For this reason, I wanted to ask Mr. Cornwall about the implications behind why people fly the flag in the way that they do. I asked him what he would say to someone who finds the Blue Lives Matter flag a symbol of hate and fear. At the end of the interview he set a final tone by saying, “you should back the blue and It should be red white, and blue.  We're Americans, and you know I don't know if the flag is going to change anybody's mind. I just don’t agree with it.” This feels like an important thought coming from a former police officer; it’s powerful to hear him say that the flag isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.In fact, I’ve become more and more convinced that this flag creates division and shares a very unsettling message whether it’s intended or not. Cornwall goes on to say, “If an officer gets hurt it’s not right, but at the same time if it's [the flag]  going to be a symbol of white supremacy, no that’s not right either.”


The Blue Lives Matter flag is commonly seen in association with white supremacists as it was carried during the famous white supremacist Charlottesville protest and at other far right-wing political gatherings (Reuters). It’s as if many people who support Blue Lives Matter also have this association. At least, I know that this is how many black and brown people see it. It’s imperative that we look beyond the surface of situations because sometimes we are led blindly, and sometimes we choose not to acknowledge the darker side of something which can later lead to an unnerving truth. So the next time you see a group of POC protesting over a Blue Lives Matter flag sticker in a coffee shop, take a step back and think about its weighted history, and why those protesters might just be a little upset.

Becky Wilson is a sophomore at Boise State studying Media Arts and Journalism with a Writing For Change minor. Her passions include social justice and writing. She hopes to continue impacting people with her words...written, spoken, and lived. 

Works Cited 

 

“About.” Black Lives Matter, 16 Oct. 2020, 

blacklivesmatter.com/about/

“About Us.” Blue Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, 11 Jan. 2017, 

archive.bluelivesmatter.blue/organization/.

Black Lives Matter Flag

Blue Lives Matter Flag

European Thin Blue Line Flag

Chammah, Maurice, and Cary Aspinwall. “The Short, Fraught History of the 'Thin Blue Line'

 American Flag.” The Marshall Project, The Marshall Project, 8 June 2020, www.themarshallproject.org/2020/06/08/the-short-fraught-history-of-the-thin-blue-line-american-flag.

Fieldstadt, Elisha. “Gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley Told Bystanders to 'Watch What I'm Going to Do': 

Cops.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 11 June 2015, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/gunman-ismaaiyl-brinsley-told-bystanders-watch-what-im-going-do-n272796. 

Reuters Staff. “Fact Check: U.S. and 'Thin Blue Line' Flags Were Displayed at Trump

 Wisconsin Rally.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 27 Oct. 2020, www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-blue-flag-trump/fact-check-u-s-and-thin-blue-line-flags-were-displayed-at-trump-wisconsin-rally-idUSKBN27C23W. 

Sharlet , Jeff. “[Annotation] A Flag for Trump's America.” Harper's Magazine, Harpers 

Magazine Foundation, 15 June 2018, harpers.org/archive/2018/07/a-flag-for-trumps-america/. 

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