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University Police Chief Bans All Thin Blue Line Imagery After Pressure From Angry Students

Madison, WI – The police chief at the University of Wisconsin (UW) – Madison said that her police department needed to distance itself from imagery that includes a Thin Blue Line flag and has banned it for members of the school’s police department.

UW-Madison Police Chief Kristen Roman sent an email to her police force on Jan. 15 that became public on Tuesday banning all Thin Blue Line flags and imagery of them, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Chief Roman’s emails said the Thin Blue Line flag had been “co-opted” by “hateful ideologies” and that her department needed to distance itself from its imagery.

“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,” the police chief wrote.

Chief Roman not only prohibited UW-Madison police officers from displaying a Thin Blue Line flag in the police department, she also told them they are banned from having it on flags, pins, bracelets, notebooks, coffee mugs, or anything else visible, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

She said she would make an exception for funerals of police officers who have died in the line of duty.

Visible tattoos of the Thin Blue Line flag, however, are still allowed, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

The UW-Madison Police Department has been under fire since a picture was posted to the police department’s Twitter account on Nov. 15, 2020 that showed a Thin Blue Line flag on the wall behind a group of officers, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Student activists became outraged that the officers were allowed to display the flag prominently in their office, according to Madison365.

They claimed that the Thin Blue Line had only come into popularity in 2014 after Michael Brown was killed in Missouri by former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

“Their use of that flag is a blatant disregard for everything that I’ve been fighting for,” student activist Djamal Lylecyrus complained. “It just shows where they stand. They are still standing at the same place, and they’re not really willing to work with students and move forward if that were even like what we were looking for.”

Initially, UW-Madison Police Chief Kristen Roman tried to explain the meaning behind the flag and the fact that law enforcement has seen it as a tribute to fallen officers for 100 years, Madison365 reported.

“The ‘thin blue line’ phrase and associated imagery date back decades. To many within and outside of the police profession, it symbolizes a commitment to public service and the countless selfless sacrifices willingly made to honor that commitment, up to and including laying down one’s own life to protect the lives of others,” Chief Roman said in a statement released when the matter first came up three months ago.

She also acknowledged in her statement that “the imagery of the thin blue line has evolved to mean different things to different people,” according to Madison365.

Chief Roman also wrote that “the department is in the midst of our Racial Equity Initiative, which aspires to establish formal, community-guided accountability metrics with respect to racial equity at UWPD.”

Students reacted to the police chief’s statement with outrage and said the university’s police department was endorsing white supremacy and ignoring Black Lives Matter by permitting officers to use Thin Blue Line flag imagery, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

“If it does mean different things to different people, and if it means something harmful to someone, then maybe it’s not a good idea to have it up,” UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition cofounder Juliana Bennett told Madison365.

“If it means white supremacy. If it means racism. If it means hate to people, then why are you going to put it up, and in the same statement say that you are in a racial equity initiative?” Bennett asked. “If you’re in an equity initiative it is certainly failing.”

Members of some extremist groups have displayed Thin Blue Line flags during protests in recent years so the students said nobody should be allowed to use it anymore.

Matthew Mitnick, the chair of the Associated Students of Madison, denounced the Thin Blue Line flag as outright racist and called it “a direct threat” to students of color, Madison365 reported.

“It is endorsing white supremacy,” Mitnick said. “It’s indicating that they refuse to validate and acknowledge that black lives do matter, that every concern that is being expressed, it’s basically just invalidating all of that. And it’s upholding and enforcing the white supremacist ideology of police departments. And is it just a direct threat. It’s trying to remind BIPOC students the level of control UWPD has over them.”

He has bumped heads with university police in the past and has been on the front lines of a campus movement to defund, and ultimately abolish, police on campus and has posted about it on social media, according to Madison365.

UW-Madison police called him out for the hypocrisy in some of his own statements from their own Twitter account, the student became very upset.

“I think them calling me out was intentional… it was a way to deflect from what other people were saying directly about their experiences with the department,” Mitnick told Madison365. “And it demonstrates also to students if you speak out against UWPD and you hold any sort of leadership positions, this is what they’re going to do to try to intimidate and silence other students from doing the same thing.”

“And even with that they literally violated their own social media policies,” he complained. “It’s completely inappropriate for a police department.”

Despite Chief Roman’s initial support for her officers and the police community that supports the Thin Blue Line, the pressure became too much and in January, she caved to the angry mob of students that had been bombarding her and university administrators with complaints, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

“I understand that this decision may cause emotional responses, even anger from some,” she told her officers in the email announcing the Thin Blue Line flag ban. “I know this is hard. I know this issue is complicated.”

“At the end of the day, we have dedicated ourselves to a profession that demands service above self,” the police chief wrote. “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.”

Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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Written by Sandy Malone


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