The controversial version of the U.S. Flag has been hailed together a authorize of police solidarity and also criticized together a symbol of white supremacy.

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as protests over policing continue to convulse cities throughout the U.S., one symbol keeps mirroring up: a black-and-white American flag through one blue stripe.

Recently, the flag to be flown native the ago of a car alongside protests in south Dakota, and also burned exterior the Utah State Capitol. As soon as deputies hoisted the flag exterior government structures in Cincinnati, Ohio, and also Orange, California, the sheriffs in both neighborhoods were high solution criticized. Officers have actually worn execution of the flag on confront masks when clashing through protesters in Baltimore and in Washington, D.C.

Those who fly the flag have said it means solidarity and professional proud within a dangerous, challenging profession and a solemn tribute come fallen police officers. However it has additionally been flown by white supremacists, appearing next to Confederate flags at the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Ar officials in Oregon recently paid $100,000 to a black employee the a regulation enforcement firm there, after she claimed she was harassed through coworkers because that complaining about her partner displaying the flag at work.

Now, as police again end up being the focal point of a fight for racial equality in the U.S., the flag has actually returned come both mirror and amplify divisions.

But how did this flag come to be so pervasive? and what does it really stand for?

In 2014, a white university student named Andrew Jacob was watching protests of police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and also Tamir Rice. He had actually seen the photo of the flag top top patches and stickers, the told The Marshall Project, however not an actual flag. When in high institution in West Bloomfield, Michigan, he had actually attended a memorial business for a police officer who had been killed on the job.

Now, Jacob is the chairman of slim Blue heat USA, among the largest online retailers specialized exclusively to sales that pro-police flags, T-shirts, neckwear and jewelry. “The flag has actually no association through racism, hatred, bigotry,” he said. “It’s a flag to display support for law enforcement—no national politics involved.” The company officially disavowed its usage in Charlottesville.

Jacob said the flag was not a direct reaction to the very first Black Lives issue protests—an idea said by a previous beginning story in Harper’s—but he enables he may have first seen the slim blue line photo after those protests spurred the circulation the pro-police imagery online. “That’s probably why it pertained to my eyes,” the said.

As Jacob built the company, a “Blue resides Matter” activity was farming in the wake up of news story of multiple police officers shot to fatality in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Brooklyn, new York; and also Dallas. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, together a presidential candidate, dubbed police “the force in between civilization and also total chaos.” part states started passing legislations to categorize physical attacks on legislation enforcement police officers as dislike crimes.

Police were no actually in better danger 보다 they had been prior to the black Lives matter movement. Ambush killings that police have actually declined more than 90 percent due to the fact that 1970, also with the current spikes, follow to a examine by Michael White, a professor of criminology in ~ Arizona State University. White understands how the slim blue line flag has end up being a component of police culture, and that officers might view it together a sign of solidarity, but additionally worries about the message it sends to the public.

“It fosters this ‘us matches them’ mentality,” he said. “The police and community need to work together, in order to create safety. Each must respect the duty of the other. If you"re looking in ~ the ar as a potential enemy, or a threat, that"s absolutely going come hinder any type of positive relationship.”

Before the flag came the phrase. The idea the a “thin blue line” can be traced every the method back to a 1854 British battle formation, a “thin red line” used during the Crimean War and then popularized in art, poetry and song. Follow to lawyers James Clapp and also Elizabeth Thornburg, who have dug up the background behind renowned phrases, the idea moved to various other professions, with various other colors, native a “thin white line of bishops” to a “thin blue heat of public schoolboys in blazers.”

It was occasionally used for police, they write. But that usage recorded on in 1922, after brand-new York police commissioner Richard Enright, encountering criticism that his leadership, mentioned it in a public relationships effort. The expression started arriving in speeches by politicians and related push coverage native Chicago to Los Angeles.

In the 1950s, “The slim Blue Line” was the title of a briefly running television show around the Los Angeles Police Department, masterminded by the chief, wilhelm H. Parker, who took advantage of Hollywood’s proximity to do public connections a key part of his tenure.

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He likewise opened increase the department’s documents to the authors of “Dragnet.”

Parker was well-known for unambiguous racism. He stated some immigrant were “not much removed native the wild people of Mexico” and also compared black occupants participating in the watt Riots—which stemmed in component from anger over his very own department’s mistreatment—to “monkeys in a zoo.”