UW-Madison Police Chief Kristen Roman recently banned the thin blue line flag and imagery on everything from coffee mugs, notebooks, decals, flags and a wide array of other items. Her decision comes after the agency was criticized after some in the community saw a thin blue line flag in the background of a photo the agency displayed on social media.
Roman claimed in an internal memo that extremists have “visibly coopted the thin blue line flag” and it places officers at “greater risk.”
Wisconsin Right Now reported on Chief Roman’s memo. “The balance has tipped, and we must consider the cost of clinging to a symbol that is undeniably and inextricably linked to actions and beliefs antithetical to UWPD’s values.” Chief Roman continued, “Effective immediately, visible public displays of thin blue line imagery while operating in an official capacity are disallowed. This includes flags, pins, bracelets, notebooks, coffee mugs, decals, etc.”
Roman’s decision makes her yet another police leader that has bent the knee to not the so called extremists that have used the “thin blue line” but those that have been triggered by what it represents.
The idea originated in 1854 and is associated when Lord Tennyson’s poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” was described by the British press as the thin red line. That idea of a line of brave defenders standing between peace and chaos was borrowed by law enforcement and was first mentioned in the 1950’s.
We began seeing this ridiculous behavior in 2017 when former Tulsa (OK) Fire Chief Ray Driskell removed a small thin blue line on fire trucks that were placed there following the ambush and murder of several Dallas area police officers. We say “former” chief because that is what every single chief should be titled that makes a decision so weak and feckless.
Picking & Choosing Extremists
Speaking of extremists, Chief Roman didn’t seem to mind the hundreds of Black Lives Matter Flags and apparel (along with all the COVID Restrictions) when she marched with them on June 8, 2020. And the last we checked, not only was the 2016 ambush and murder of several police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas inspired by supporters and sympathizers of BLM, there have been countless attacks on law enforcement and property from those claiming to be BLM.
Just as we don’t blame the overall BLM movement for the violent actions of some, how do leaders like Roman make this type of decision with a straight face?
We shutter to think what the future of law enforcement will be like if our leaders can’t even stand up to the radical and crazy notion that the thin blue line flag is a bad thing.
It’s simply preposterous.
Police Memo or Political Manifesto?
Here is Chief Roman’s complete memo:
I want to begin by acknowledging the extraordinary times in which we are currently carrying out our duties and responsibilities as guardians of our community. I certainly feel the weight of the national and local narratives that dominate the headlines depicting all police as white supremacists – a profoundly disturbing sentiment that seems to have gained wider support following last week’s insurrection at the US Capital during which extremists once again waved thin blue line flags. I’m certain we can all agree that the actions and hateful ideologies of extremists who have so visibly co-opted the thin blue line flag in the promotion of their views not only threaten our democracy, our communities, and justice in all forms, they run counter to UWPD’s core values and significantly impede our efforts to build trust. This, in turn, places officers at greater risk physically and emotionally.
Guided by our core values, my responsibility to ensure your safety as best I’m able, and by what I believe in my heart is the right thing to do under present circumstances, I am moved to enact specific measures to distance UWPD from the thin blue line imagery and the fear and mistrust that it currently evokes for too many in our community. I understand the complexity and sensitivity of this issue. Attempts I’ve made to point to distinctions and true meaning as well as denounce acts committed under the thin blue line banner nationally continue to fall short in ways I can’t simply ignore. The balance has tipped, and we must consider the cost of clinging to a symbol that is undeniably and inextricably linked to actions and beliefs antithetical to UWPD’s values.
At the end of the day, we have dedicated ourselves to a profession that demands service above self. As such, relevant community concerns, perceptions, and fears necessarily outweigh our shared professional investment in a symbol that presently separates and alienates us from those we have promised to serve.
Effective immediately, visible public displays of thin blue line imagery while operating in an official capacity are disallowed. This includes flags, pins, bracelets, notebooks, coffee mugs, decals, etc. Upon my approval, event-specific displays such as line-of-duty death observances, may be exempted. Similarly, visible tattoos that include the thin blue line are not required to be covered, as my intent is not that we reject outright the symbol for what we understand it to represent, nor do I believe it to be inherently racist/fascist as many purport. Instead, my intent is to be reasonably responsive to its detrimental impact on many in our community for whom the visible symbol holds a very different meaning.
I know that conversations about the thin blue line have been taking place in various work units following the tweet that showed the flag in the OTR and my subsequent statement. I encourage you all to continue these discussions. I believe we have the capacity to embrace a ‘both/and’ rather than an “either/or” and while stopping short of dismantling our existing installations, I expect that I/we will be held to account for not doing so. To this end, we owe it to our community and to ourselves to grapple with the complexity of this issue and consider what degree of divestiture is most valuable for all concerned.
In closing, in addition to the restrictions around visible displays of thin blue line imagery, as we head into the next several days and the potential for peaceful protests to take a turn toward violence, I urge you to carefully consider the ways in which we engage with those who espouse ideologies antithetical to UWPD core values and the constitution we have sworn to uphold. Our usual approach to crowd management is not universally applicable insomuch as it compromises our integrity. Be very cognizant of the consequences that jovial interaction, selfies, and the like, will have for the department and our broader community in the context of everything I’ve pointed to in this not-so-brief email.
I understand that this decision may cause emotional responses, even anger from some. I, too, feel hurt and disappointed as we confront our current reality. I know this is hard. I know this issue is complicated. I also know that a symbol is not what holds us together or makes us a team. Rather, it is our shared commitment to service and to first and foremost doing what’s best for our community.
With endless gratitude and appreciation,
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Losing Your Mind—Or Losing “Yourself in the Service of Others”?
We are pretty sure that Gandhi would not support “service” that cowers to crazy people over a law enforcement symbol that has existed for seventy plus years and completely insult dedicated men and women that put their lives on the line each and every day for citizens….even the crazy ones.
We don’t want to completely pile on Chief Roman here and being a police chief in 2021 is no joke. But there is a way to deal with radical and extremist ideas like the outrage that the thin blue line flag causes.
Completely ignore it.
Because if you let others define your symbols and what you stand for, you won’t be standing for much longer. Explain what it means to you and your agency and move on because if you think that demand is nuts, give in to it and just wait for the next one.
Chief Kristen Roman should know that all too well. She apologized and removed a tweet in 2019 that featured a photo of a group of police officers wearing sunglasses with their arms crossed, with the following caption: “It’s Saturday. And you know what that means @UWMadisonPolice. Let’s do this! #GameDay…again.”
Oh the outrage!
Never, ever give in to bullies because if you do, you will be beholden to their whims and desires and we can guarantee you that is not in the best interest of law enforcement.