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.