San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott has come under scrutiny for forbidding his officers from wearing “thin blue line” flag masks while working.
Several officers wore masks decorated with a black-and-white American flag with a blue stripe at a May Day protest in the city.
The protest, led by the activist group Reclaim SF, featured two homeless women occupying a vacant property Friday while demonstrators outside carried signs.
— Reclaim SF (@reclaim_sf) May 1, 2020
The police officers’ masks — worn for protection against the coronavirus — sparked outrage from some on the left.
this is a horrifying image. police in thin blue line masks, a fascist symbol, about to raid a vacant home that homeless women have occupied to protect the property of some real estate investor https://t.co/M88jI0fusk
— Cara, Sea Person (@caraesten) May 1, 2020
At a nonviolent May Day action today, officers “wearing [SFPOA] face masks depicting the Thin Blue Line flag, which became a symbol for counter protesters during the Black Lives Matter movement.” Totally unacceptable. https://t.co/vKjuZQjdDs
— Dean Preston (@DeanPreston) May 2, 2020
Shamann Walton, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, told the San Francisco Examiner that the image of officers wearing the masks “looks more like something you see below the Mason Dixon Line.”
The police chief soon took action. In an email obtained by KTVU-TV, Scott declared Friday, “Thin Blue Line masks shall not be worn by our on-duty members.”
While he acknowledged that he considers the flag and stripe to be “a meaningful expression to honor fallen officers,” Scott said it can be viewed as “divisive or disrespectful.”
The chief declared that officers would now be required to wear neutral face coverings.
“The San Francisco Police Department stands for safety with respect for all, and in consideration of concerns some community members have expressed that ‘thin blue line’ symbolism on some of our officers’ face masks may be perceived as divisive or disrespectful, we are taking steps with our officers and the Police Officers Association to provide alternative, neutral personal protective equipment,” Scott said.
— Evan Sernoffsky (@EvanSernoffsky) May 2, 2020
That decision didn’t sit well with Joseph Imperatrice. The founder of Blue Lives Matter in New York City called out the police chief and defended the officers’ thin blue line masks in an appearance Monday on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”
“At a time when officers are risking their lives more than ever and they’re going out there with a piece of protective around their face with a blue line — a blue line’s a sign of solidarity — you have an executive out in San Francisco that’s kind of crushing their morale,” Imperatrice said.
“I believe a leader in that sense shouldn’t be doing something like that,” he continued. “At a time when we can’t go to funerals for one another, it’s a sign to show that you’re thinking about the families, you’re thinking about the officer, and this isn’t the time for an executive to be stepping on their dreams and making a gesture such as that.”
Imperatrice said thin blue line flags are often displayed at funerals for fallen officers and are used to “show respect and honor.”
“To go out there, and you’re supposed to be a leader, and kind of throw your cops under the bus when you’re just trying to show support for one another is completely disgusting, and maybe that individual shouldn’t be in that position,” he said.
Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, noted the thin blue line “represents law enforcement’s separation of order and chaos.”
Montoya told the San Francisco Chronicle that Scott’s command staff were presented with the masks and had requested several of them from the union.
He said he was upset by the chief’s capitulation to “the haters who have made a cottage industry out of carping, complaining and stereotyping the police.”
The officers’ thin blue line masks included the logo for the Police Officers Association.
A retired civil rights lawyer, John Crew, told the Chronicle that the masks served as an expression of political opinion in violation of longstanding city policy.
“The thin blue line is a political symbol,” Crew said. “And it’s a POA-branded mask. It’s like wearing a political button.”
The thin blue line symbol was embraced more than 30 years ago by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial to honor those killed in the line of duty.
It gained popularity more recently in connection with the Blue Lives Matter movement, which arose in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and its anti-police rhetoric.
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