Morgantown, WV – Critics are demanding that the West Virginia University (WVU) police chief resign for having a Thin Blue Line flag on display on his office wall as he was participating in a campus Zoom meeting about racial issues last month.
WVU Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Meshea Poore said that seeing the pro-police flag traumatized the nearly 700 people who participated in the June 10 forum, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Questions regarding the Thin Blue Line flag arose approximately 42 minutes into the Zoom call, when the moderator who was handling questions from remote users told WVU Police Chief William Chedester that there was a lot of “interest in the wall décor” in his space, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Chief Chedester said that the flag is commonplace for first responders, and that it was given to him by his wife.
He noted that the hand-carved flag also bore his unit number, as well as a verse about peacemakers.
But many students and faculty members were unsatisfied with his explanation, and promptly lodged complaints with the university’s administration, Campus Reform reported.
Critics have alleged that the Thin Blue Line flag was created in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.
But the Thin Blue Line flag was created long before Black Lives Matter ever existed, and the term “thin blue line” has been popular with law enforcement officers since the 1950s.
“Thin Blue Line flags are just flags that express support for law enforcement. They have no direct connection to any Blue Lives Matter organization outside of their original meaning to show support for police,” The Police Tribune Editor-in-Chief, and Blue Lives Matter co-founder Christopher Berg explained.
Chief Chedester apologized for his pro-law enforcement décor within hours, despite the actual meaning of the flag.
“For me personally, it has always represented a way to honor the commitment I made as a first responder to protect our community,” the chief said in a written statement. “I understand now that it represents something else to many others; something that I now know was traumatic to some of our community.”
Chief Chedester said he never meant to imply that “police lives matter more than Black lives,” and denied having intentionally tried to harm or offend anyone.
“Today I saw a symbol through others’ eyes. As a leader on our campus, I will be more conscientious, intentional and thoughtful,” the chief continued.
“I apologize for how this has damaged the trust I have worked to build with the community,” he added. “I am committed to rebuilding that trust beginning today. I am taking the flag down from my office wall.”
WVU Department of English Assistant Professor Rose Casey denounced the Thin Blue Line flag as a racist symbol of “white supremacy,” Campus Reform reported.
“The Blue Lives Matter flag is associated with white supremacy,” Casey wrote in a tweet that has since been made private. “Given the racism that the country is grappling with, which this talk was meant to address, UPD Chief Chedester’s apology is welcome. Let’s continue to be talk honestly about what we’re addressing: racism.”
Poore said that the “incident” has become “a teachable moment for us all,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“For some the lesson was how we can listen, learn, and respond with honest apology and willingness to change,” she said. “For others the lesson was how we can speak up, share our perspective, and hold each other accountable.”
But not everyone was content with Chief Chedester’s apology and his willingness to swiftly drop his support for the Thin Blue Line.
“The only way forward is with his resignation,” WVU Department of Biochemical Genetics Associate Professor Vagner Benedito tweeted. “Why is it so difficult to comprehend?”
Benedito said that people of color “will not be trusting” Chief Chedester’s leadership.
“Moving forward, he must resign to make sure there is inclusions and equality regarding the police actions on campus!” he added, according to Campus Reform.
The associate professor balked at the chief’s apology, and said he did not find it to be “convincing,” according to the news outlet.
“That flag was crafted to oppose the Black Lives Matter movement, even though historically police lives have always mattered while black lives have been taken away by systematic police brutality over and over again,” Benedito declared. “If he was indeed ignorant about its meaning, he should not be in a position of so much power for being so much misinformed about the current situation of the country, especially in matters involving the police.”
According to Benedito, “the diverse community at WVU and allies are demanding the replacement of WVU Chief Police moving forward,” Campus Reform reported.