The right to protest and to ask for redress of grievances is guaranteed by our Constitution. We’ve seen plenty of protesting the past few weeks, particularly aimed at police conduct. It ought to be respected and listened to — as well as pushed back upon by those with dissenting views.
There’s a problem when rhetoric turns toxic, however, and we’re seeing examples of it play out all over the country. In Gallatin County, Montana, law enforcement is looking into several disturbing cases of vandalism against the homes of police families, including the theft of “thin blue line” flags and vulgar, threatening messages being spray painted on homes.
According to a KTVQ-TV report Tuesday, one homeowner with family members in law enforcement said he woke up to find “pig,” “ACAB” and “1312” painted on his garage door.
The last two phrases reference an anti-police slogan used by some protesters: “All Cops are B—ards.” (The numbers 1-3-1-2 refer to the numerical positions of A, C, and B in the alphabet.)
In Gallatin County, investigators have started looking into several cases of vandalism involving the homes of police families: https://t.co/5Yx4mhNKxj
— KRTV Great Falls MT (@KRTV) June 17, 2020
“It’s very disgraceful. We can’t protect our law enforcement,” one Belgrade, Montana, homeowner, who isn’t being identified, told the station.
The vandal, wearing a hoodie and a mask, was caught on video giving the middle finger as he ran away.
“They should keep their distance away from my house,” the homeowner told KTVQ. “It’s just hard to know about many law enforcement is getting the same thing.”
There are others who are getting the same treatment in Gallatin County, too.
“There’s no reason for it,” Sheriff Brian Gootkin told the station. “Like a safe protest from the last two weeks where people can go and vent their emotions and their concerns and do it peacefully, not spray paint somebody’s garage door or steal their flags. I mean it, what does that do?”
Perhaps most sickeningly, vandalism has also struck the home of the family of a deputy who lost his life last year while helping a stranded motorist.
“They’ve had their blue line flag stolen numerous times and then someone left a note at the residence,” Gootkin told KTVQ. “These family members are going through hell as it is and then you have something like this — that is so selfish and there is no reason for it. That’s frustrating.
“Something like this is so horrible and despicable but it also rips apart, rips open that scar and that wound,” he added.
The note, KTVQ noted, was too vulgar to be read on television. However, the station broadcast an image of a redacted version of it: “Imagine being such a piece of — you were proud to be a cop right now. Go — yourself and take down this blue pride flag. Black Lives Matter. — Your neighbors.”
Check out the KTVQ report here:
This isn’t isolated to Montana, either. In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, several other incidents of similar vandalism were reported, according to Lehigh Valley Live.
During the overnight period between June 8 and June 9, several homes in West Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, were vandalized, again with graffiti like “ACAB” and “racist.” An American flag and thin blue line flag were also torn down and left on one home’s front patio.
Another home had graffiti like “#BLM Say Their Names” spray painted on the sidewalk. The grim irony is that the home sported an American flag that had corporate symbols replacing the stars. Apparently, the homeowner was of a liberal political bent — if not looking to press opinions on others by illegal and intimidatory means.
And that’s what this sort of vandalism is: Intimidation. There’s a thin line between someone willing to target the homes of law enforcement families with slogans like “ACAB” and someone who’s willing to go further. If you’re a law enforcement family, you’re being told not to let it be known, or else you may discover what “further” means. You’re certainly not allowed to show any pride or support, else you’ll be a target.
And mind you, in almost any major or minor city in the United States, there are opportunities to protest right now. The seat of Gallatin County, for instance, is Bozeman, a college town well-known for its left-of-center politics. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, there were thousands of people protesting in the city earlier in June. Even given social distancing, there are plenty of constructive ways to let your left flag fly almost anywhere in America.
Also, heck — why don’t you take your grievances up with Sheriff Gootkin?
“If you have a problem with us then, I just met with a person last week, face to face, so that we could actually have a discussion and answer their questions and their concerns, be transparent and explain to them what we do and whywe do it,” Gootkin said. “That’s productive.”
“Before you do something like that, call me,” he added. “Call me and come visit with me and I’ll meet with you face to face and I will give you all of the respect of the world. Everyone that puts this badge and this uniform does it for one reason and — or should do it for one reason and one reason only. That is to help people.”
You may not agree, and that’s the great thing: You can tell Gootkin that, or you can take to the streets and demonstrate. That’s our country, that’s your choice. That’s the reason why you get to fly the American flag — or the thin blue line flag, or an American flag with corporate symbols replacing the stars.
It’s easy to say that vandalism like this doesn’t accomplish anything, but it does. It’s meant to terrify and bully people, and to the extent it makes people think twice about displaying support for law enforcement or flying the American flag, it accomplishes that goal.
If you think it’s not a symptom of that problem, however, you haven’t been paying attention.
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