OPINION: Flagler Beach's 'thin blue lines' flags promote racism, not just support for police
Correction: This story was corrected at 1:18 p.m. May 31, deleting the names of Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin from the list of people this author originally claimed had been shot and killed by police. Bland was arrested but later died in jail; Martin was shot by a Neighborhood Watch leader, not a police officer.
If you’ve visited Flagler Beach recently, surely you have taken notice of all the new flags put in place around the city. Because of Memorial Day, it makes sense that we would be proudly displaying our flags of red, white and blue all around town, to honor those that have fallen while in the line of duty. However, there are other flags on display: black and blue American flags, which many people around town are calling “thin blue line" flags.
A history of racism
According to a 2013 article published by the Palm Coast Observer, Flagler County was one of the last counties in the state of Florida to desegregate its school system. This integration didn’t occur until the 1970s, and in fact, Flagler only integrated its schools after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a court order making it mandatory.
In 2010, there were numerous calls to the police about threatening flyers being left at people’s homes. In 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that, after examining all of Florida’s school districts, Flagler County Public Schools was the worst district for “disproportionately disciplining African-American students.” In 2017, people in Flagler Beach reported KKK propaganda being left outside their homes. With all this being said, it may not be such a big surprise that some people in this town would so openly advocate for a movement created in complete disregard for people of color and their continuing efforts for equality in this country, but I’d like to believe that the display of these flags comes from a pure-intentioned ignorance, not hatred and racism.
Blue Lives vs. Black Lives?
During a time of mass protest against police brutality in New York, two NYPD officers were shot and killed in their patrol car in 2014. Just last year, a Houston sheriff’s deputy was killed in the line of duty at a gas station. Due to incidents such as these, Louisiana State Rep. Lance Harris proposed the Blue Lives Matter bill, which would make attacks on police (assuming that these attacks are made simply because of their occupation) punishable as a hate crime.
Including professional occupations of individuals in the current hate crimes statute could distract efforts in protecting against crimes based on someone’s true identity, such as their race, gender or religion. If a police officer feels personally threatened because of their profession, they have the choice of taking off their uniform; it is their occupation, not their life. If a person of color feels they are being attacked for the color of their skin, they do not have that option.
We can advocate for the value of police lives without diluting the power of hate crime statutes.
We as Americans value our law enforcement. We should respect and honor them and value their lives like anyone else’s — but this appreciation of their duty shouldn’t justify an abuse of power and authority that some officers can take serious advantage of.
Many people claim that the Black Lives Matter movement is anti-police, pro-violence, and propagating that African Americans’ lives are worth more than others. This, however, is just not the case. Black Lives Matter is a civil rights movement advocating for the fair treatment of black individuals in police custody and for reforms to end police brutality.
The Blue Lives Matter movement was created as a counter movement to Black Lives Matter as a way of diminishing, criminalizing, and silencing their efforts for justice by exploiting specific incidents of violence on police. By trying to label attacks on police as a hate crime, especially when claiming that these attacks are done mainly by African Americans, it draws attention away from the fact that many shootings done by police officers themselves could be considered racially motivated hate crimes.
There have been countless incidents where police have harmed and shot people who were unarmed, and a large majority of these have been African Americans. Michael Brown and Tamir Rice are just two of the many people shot and killed by police, both of them being unarmed. In a 2009 incident, Flagler Beach Police Lt. Robert W. Milstead put an African American man in the back of his patrol car after the man would not be quiet. When the man would still not be quiet, Milstead yelled racial slurs while repeatedly pepper spraying the unarmed man in the face, although he was already in the back of a patrol car. This is just one example of an abuse of police authority, and one that has happened within our own town.
As of May 7, there have been 24 police officers shot and killed this year in the line of duty, but according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, fatal shootings on officers have actually decreased overall since the 1970s. However, in just 2017, 1,147 people were shot and killed by police. In 2018 alone, over 400 people have already been shot and killed by police. The statistics show that the legal authority and power police hold can yield negative results.
Police brutality, especially on minorities, is a serious issue in this country. Trying to address it isn’t an attack on police; it’s trying to assess a deeper flaw in our police system as a whole, in the systematic racism our country has thrived on since the beginning of time.
An air of hostility
Perhaps Art Woosley, a former NYPD patrol officer who donated the flags to the city, truly didn’t realize that these “thin blue line” flags propagate such hostility and racism. In a letter to the editor of Palm Coast Observer, Woosley wrote, “Our community ... truly transformed our great little city by painting it blue.” And that it did. It transformed our town from a welcoming environment to be proud of and presented a new air of hostility and hatred.
I hope that our city officials and law enforcement will consider the implications of this and will reconsider the placement of these flags around our town so that Flagler County doesn’t continue being on the wrong side of history.
Isabella Herrera is a resident of Flagler Beach.