Dear Chief Tigera of the Niles Police Department,
We are writing this open letter to you about the “Blue Lives Matter” face masks your officers are wearing1. As community members organized against racism we have concerns. To understand why Niles PD would be wearing such symbols we have spoken on the phone with your chain of command. We were disappointed to learn that you
and the Village 2 approved these masks3 Deputy Chief Joseph Penze said firmly that you would not “take the masks away from the guys”.
There’s a new burgeoning awareness of racial issues in our society. That makes it all the more bewildering how this symbol4 can be so uncritically brandished. While your officers have denied the racial nature of this symbol, it is otherwise well-established to be the case.
This symbol of a black & white version of the United States flag with a blue line replacing a white stripe across the middle represents so-called “Blue Lives Matter”. It is a recently invented countermovement5 to Black Lives Matter. Frank Rudy Cooper, Professor of Law and Director of the Program on Race, Gender, and Policing at University of Nevada, Las Vegas explains in “Cop Fragility And Blue Lives Matter”6:
“Here we see a strong connection between police officers and nationalism. One might argue that cop fragility is about white anxiety over the changes in the racial demographics of the nation. Specifically, we will soon be a majority-minority resentment is the clear appropriation of the black civil rights narrative implied in the group’s very title. Many scholars have noted that the Blue Lives Matter movement is a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement. ”
Sometimes the “Blue Lives Matter” symbol is said to be in memorial for fallen officers. There is already a symbol for that 7. I. India Thusi, Associate Professor of Law at California Western School of Law writes in “Blue Lives & The Permanence Of Racism”8:
“‘Blue Lives Matter’ attempts to silence calls for accountability by focusing on worthy victims–fallen police officers. Organizing to support police officers and their families is not problematic in and of itself. In fact, such organizing should be encouraged. However, when it is done in conversation with calls for police accountability and the recognition of Black humanity, developed during counterprotests for police accountability, it is an attempt to qualify the recognition of Black worth.”
This “Blue Lives Matter” controversy is not new to police departments across the nation. San Francisco9, Bellingham10, Tacoma11, Boise12, and many others13 including our own neighboring Skokie have removed this symbol. It took a public outcry for these examples to make the press. But we don’t know how many departments have made the preemptive decision to ban this symbol. It’s recognized to be unprofessional and divisive, in the very least.
It shouldn’t take scholars though to realize the racist connotations of the “Blue Lives Matter” flag. People in the community understand it quite well. We see it freely flown at white nationalist rallies14. We see it flown alongside the confederate flag15 The implications are undeniable and you don’t have to travel far to see it16.
Recently you signed onto a resolution on behalf of your department with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police & NAACP of Illinois. This Affirmation of Shared Principles17. meant to address the historical mistrust between police and communities of color. Policing the community behind the veil of a thin blue line is not in the spirit of the resolution summarized as “replacing mistrust with mutual trust wherever, whenever and however possible.”18
The Niles Police Department and the Village of Niles have made an egregious error. It wasn’t merely the decision to approve and wear a divisive symbol. It is the lack of anti-racist countermeasures against this sort of internalized racial bias. There is little excuse for this oversight now given the Movement for Black Lives and the recent uprising.
With the changing racial demographics of Niles, Black, Indigenous, and people of color now make up one third of the population. All Niles residents deserve to feel safe and included as members of this community. Lines are divisive symbols by design. Regardless of the history or intent, the thin blue line is unfit to represent a public policing service. The evidence from your police peers, Black scholars, and community members, attests to this fact. It should be enough to motivate you to please do the right thing. To that end we ask you to please…
- use neutral symbols/facemasks and remove all thin blue line / ”Blue Lives Matter” symbols.
- delete or make a corrective statement regarding all social media posts with images depicting this symbol.
- reconnect with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police & NAACP of Illinois and review the resolution you signed onto.
We look forward to a response within one week from this email (by 8/25/2020) with your plan for restitution that accommodates these minimal demands. We wish to move forward in a constructive manner that best serves our community and hope that you do too.
The Northwest Side Coalition Against Racism & Hate
PS – This will be published as an open letter to include the wider community.
- As seen on your social media feed, example 7/13/2020. ↩
- CORRECTION: We have since learned in a conversation with the Niles Mayor Andrew Przybylo on November 11th 2020 that Chief Tigera alone approved these masks contrary to what we were told by Commander George Alexopoulos on July 15th 2020. Nobody else in the Village government were explicitly included in this decision. ↩
- Donated by FUZION Custom Apparel, 4/23/2020 ↩
- Wikipedia: “Flag commonly associated with Blue Lives Matter” ↩
- A Flag for Trump’s America – Harper’s Magazine, 7/2018 ↩
- Cop Fragility And Blue Lives Matter – Frank Rudy Cooper, 2020 University of Illinois Law Review 621 (2020) ↩
- Wikipedia: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, symbol ↩
- Blue Lives & the Permanence of Racism – I. India Thusi, 2019 California Western School of Law (2019) ↩
- SF police chief to replace ‘thin blue line’ masks that provoked controversy – San Francisco Chronicle, 5/3/2020 ↩
- Chief removed Bellingham Police Department sign with ‘thin blue line’ image – The Bellingham Herald, 6/10/2020 ↩
- ‘Thin blue line’ stickers removed from all Tacoma police cars after citizen complaints – The News Tribune, 7/01/2020 ↩
- ‘Breaks my heart’: Boise Police ask officers not to display ‘thin blue line’ flag in public – Idaho Statesman ↩
- Multnomah County, Oregon, York, Maine, Middletown, Connecticut, Stillwater, Minnesota ↩
“Those who fly the flag have said it stands for solidarity and professional pride within a dangerous, difficult profession and a solemn tribute to fallen police officers. But it has also been flown by white supremacists, appearing next to Confederate flags at the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. County officials in Oregon recently paid $100,000 to a black employee of a law enforcement agency there, after she said she was harassed by coworkers for complaining about her colleagues displaying the flag at work.”
The Short, Fraught History of the ‘Thin Blue Line’ American Flag – The Marshall Project, 6/8/2020 ↩
“The blue line poses the old question of organized labor—which side are you on?—as a loyalty test. Loyalty to what? Authority. Authority for authority’s sake, as seen in personal variations of the flag that soon proliferated: a Christian cross bisecting its stripes, bullets instead of stars. The flag began to appear alongside the other standards of lovers of the strong hand: the yellow snake of “Don’t Tread on Me,” the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy, and even—most notably at the August 2017 Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia—the swastika’s crooked cross.”
- Image: Flag flying next to confederate flag as seen in Chicago ↩
- Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Illinois NAACP, Affirmation of Shared Principles ↩
- NAACP, ILACP make historic announcement about 10 Shared Principles of interaction ↩