That Thin Blue Line Flag

The Police Department in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, where Daunte Wright was killed by an officer, has been flying a “Thin Blue Line” flag just below the American flag. The mayor of Brooklyn Center requested that the flag be taken down because it is inflammatory, and the police complied. Its use has been banned by the University of Wisconsin and Pelham, NY, police departments.

The TBL flag has a lot wrong with it. It is related to the “Blue lives matter” slogan, which developed in response to “Black lives matter” to minimize that claim. It is used by white supremacist factions. The flag was displayed in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, with attackers somewhat contradictorily attacking Capitol police with poles with the flag attached.

It’s not just the flag. Search for thin blue line images and you will find skulls, crosses, angels, crusaders, helmets, Superman symbols, mourning bands, and flags of Australia and the UK. Many of the flags are depicted as weathered, and you can buy a weathered flag from Etsy. Not immediately clear why weathered flags are valued.

It is an American flag, flattened to black and white, with a blue stripe substituting for the white stripe just below the field of stars. Interpretations of the red, white, and blue of the American flag vary, and there seems to be no official interpretation, but the black and white of the TBL flag eliminate them. Changing the American flag is an act of arrogance and claimed power to override its values.

Many interpretations are possible of that black and white scheme. Black and white suggest a radical division of right and wrong, or skin color. Removing the colors and substituting one symbolizing a single group suggests that that group is the most important in the nation.

Black and white color schemes often indicate mourning.

Wikipedia and the Marshall Project give some history of the phrase and flag.

Cross-posted at Balloon Juice


  1. Mark · April 15

    At an abstract level, the TBL flag literally means “police state.” It reduces the regular USA flag and everything it represents to secondary status by greying it out, and defines the police as supreme over it by placing themselves at the center and the only component in color. In every movie where something has gone terribly wrong, the director does a slow camera pan of a flag other than old glory. It should concern us that police are adopting symbols that portray the nation as theirs, and themselves as the enforcers and protectors of what is “America.” Criminals are just as American as they are. Symbolism aside, modifying the flag in one’s own image is explicitly against the flag code, and any government entity should know that.


  2. The Blog Fodder · April 20

    Using the American flag for clothing is also illegal. I’d love to see that enforced. Hoo, Boy. Fur would fly.


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