Guest Commentary: Why Blue Lives Matter Is a Racist Movement

by multiple authors – see bottom

“There is no segregation or integration problem in this community…I think the greatest dislocated minority in America today are the police.” – LAPD Chief Bill Parker, who popularized the “Thin Blue Line” imagery, to the US Commission on Civil Rights, 1959

*We hoped to publish this article the week after ECAC made their statement, but each major journalism venue we reached out to refused to publish till this week due to safety concerns for their staff. We feel that censored journalism is yet another indicator of what the Blue Lives Matter movement is truly about.

As we write this statement, many of us are fielding death threats, transphobic questions about our genitals, and anti-Black attacks on our friends and family. These threats began in response to a statement by the Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission of the Associated Students of UC Davis (ASUCD), the undergraduate student government, over the weekend – which spoke out about the proliferation of “Blue Lives Matter” images across Davis in the wake of the death of a local police officer Thursday evening. These brave students stood against the media’s complicity in white supremacy and xenophobia.

ASUCD President Michael Gofman has since condemned this statement, encouraging attacks by “Blue Lives Matter” supporters across the nation. The veneration of control and violence, not the dead, is the goal of “Blue Lives Matter” and its supporters. This article is not about Natalie Corona, but about those who have used her death, ruthlessly, to advance a white supremacist and xenophobic agenda – it’s about “Blue Lives Matter.”

It is necessary to start with a brief overview of the institution which is the focal point of this right-wing movement. Modern policing as we know it today originated with slave catchers and overseers in the South, as well as the growing need to maintain “order” in the early urban and working poor areas of the North. These practices developed alongside terrorizing and lynching of newly-freed slaves, massacres of indigenous peoples, and the enforcement of the gender order. This is the “order” that the police were created to protect.

While “Blue Lives Matter” supporters claim that these roots are distant memories and unrelated to modern policing, current police practices are part of this same “order” – the same xenophobia, anti-Blackness, and queer and transphobia – manifested in new ways. Modern examples abound. Police played a significant role in defending Jim Crow segregation. Philadelphia police bombed the headquarters of Black radical organization MOVE in 1985, killing 11 people, including children. Fred Hampton, leader of the Black Panther Party, was killed by the Chicago PD in collaboration with the FBI. Police have been a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan. They’ve been known collaborators with neo-Nazis. They are implicated in the death and exploitation of Black and Native women and girls. They are, as an institution, meant to uphold an “order” which views non-white, non-normative people are expendable and subhuman.

“But, there are women and POC folks in police departments!” is a common refrain of Blue Lives Matter apologists. The presence of people of color and of women does not address how the institution shapes those inside of it. Neoliberal logics tokenize POC folks, LGBTQ+ people, and women in order to make the State appear “softer.” This functions to cover up the violence that institutions like the police inflict on these communities. Studies suggest that family violence is 2-4 times more likely within police families.  Sociologists studying dynamics inside police departments cite deeply racial attitudes and behaviors towards cops of color. Women who must walk the “thin blue line” face rampant sexism. Recent studies have also shown that police officers, whether Black or white, are more likely to shoot Black people. This suggests that the problem runs deeper than individual officers – that it’s not personal, but structural.

“Police do a hard and dangerous job, we’ve got to treat them like the heroes they are!” Mythologizing the danger experienced by police – as many who wave the “thin blue line” flag do – falls apart under scrutiny. Being a police officer isn’t even in the top 10 most dangerous jobs. Loggers, roofers, agricultural workers, and other occupations are significantly more dangerous than being a police officer. “Blue Lives Matter” advocates argue that they venerate these deaths and not others because officers are shot. But this doesn’t jive with the numbers. In 2017, 44 police officers were shot on duty; this places the rate of police officer shootings at just under 9 per 100,000. Compare this with the death rate of Black men killed by police in cities local to us, which range from 16.9 per 100,000 in Reno to 4.9 per 100,000 in Stockton.

Let’s look closer to home. Four Black men were killed by either the Sacramento police or the Sacramento Sheriff’s department this past year alone. Let’s take the time to name them.

Stephon Clark

Marshall Miles

Darrell Richards

Brandon Smith

It isn’t simply that some people die because of guns – or “Blue Lives Matter” supporters would be in solidarity with the kids in Parkland, with Black Lives Matter, and with other organizations seeking to reduce lethal force in our society. “Blue Lives Matter” essentially tells us some lives are worth celebrating while others don’t matter.

So what is a “blue” life? Both the “Thin Blue Line” and the “Blue Lives Matter” flag, were developed in response to Black and Brown organizing. Each relies on the logic that if the police weren’t there to “keep us all safe,” our society would descend into violence and disorder. The reality is that the police serve and protect not people per se but rather the social and economic order–a social order which devalues Black and Brown lives. This is why police are sicced on Black people — while walking, while driving, while swimming, while sleeping, while studying, while playing in the park, while selling cigarettes or lemonade, etc.; in many instances these encounters end in death for being Black in America.

Considering the expansion in police powers across the country, and their increasing access to military grade weaponry, the Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission acted rightly to oppose this racist imagery. Blue Lives Matter advocates use thinly-veiled calls for “law and order” to expand the discretionary powers of police – that accountability is somehow an “attack” on the very lives of the police – because we are told the job is so dangerous that they can’t be “constrained” by rules and regulations.

This is exactly what has played out in Davis. The recent death of a police officer, the first death of this sort since 1959, has been used as a lightning rod to attack anyone who calls for accountability or who does anti-racist work. The media has normalized the “Blue Lives Matter” message by circulating images of the person who was killed, not with family and friends, but draped in a flag which has come to symbolize white supremacy and intimidation. This was never about Natalie Corona. This whole experience, the death threats, the transphobia, the intimidation is about what it’s always been about – the right of those who are used to dominating others to continue doing so.

They’re finding out though, that times are a’changin’.

Signed,

Blu Buchanan
They/Them/Theirs
SWERV Organizer (Students and Workers Ending Racial Violence)
UAW 2865 Rank-And-File
Sociology PhD Candidate

Duane Wright
He/Him/His
UAW 2865 Rank-And-File
Sociology PhD Candidate

Hannah Kagan-Moore
She/Her/Hers or They/Them/Theirs
UAW 2865 Rank-and-File
UCD Alumnus

Mx. Eric M. Gudz, MS
They/Them/Theirs
Delegate, California Democratic Party, Assembly District 4
UCD Alumnus

Michael Rawls
He/Him/His
UAW 2865 Rank-And-File
Horticulture and Agronomy Masters Student

Emily Meza, MPA
She/Her/Hers
City of Davis Community Member
UCD Alumnus – B.A. in Spanish

Joshua Fernandez
He/Him/His
Associate Professor of English, Folsom Lake College
UCD Alumnus

Ellie White
She/Her/Hers
UAW 2865 Rank-And-File
Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD Student

Aaron Latta
He/Him/His
UCD Undergraduate Student
Yolo County Democratic Party, District 2 Representative

Russell Thomas
They/Them/Theirs
UCD Undergraduate Student
B.A. Gender, Sexuality, Women’s Studies / American Studies

Abigail Wang
They/Them/Theirs
UCD Undergraduate Student
Asian/Pacific Islander Queers Internal Affairs

Organization: Davis United Students Against Sweatshops Local 143

Tianna Taylor
She/Her/Hers
UCD Undergraduate Student
Black Family Day/Week Co-Coordinator

Talia Miller
She/Her/Hers
UCD Undergraduate Student
B.A. Communications

Toby Smith
He/Him/His
UAW 2865 Rank-And-File
Cultural Studies PhD Candidate

Gezellighied Syed De La Ciel
She/Her/Hers
UCD Undergraduate Student
B.A. Political Science and Philosophy

Connor Gorman
He/Him/His
UCD Physics Graduate Student

aa valdivia
They/Them/Theirs
UCD Geography Graduate Student
CHI Studies Professor

Steven Blevins
He/Him/His
PhD English, UC Davis, 2008

Mark Shimabukuro
He/Him/His
UCD Undergraduate Student
B.A. Cinema and Digital Media

Kaleemah Kennon Muttaqi
She/Her/Hers
UCD International Relations Undergraduate Student
General Campus Climate Community Coordinator

Shira Soleimani
She/Her/Hers or They/Them/Theirs
SWERV organizer

Raquel Navarro
She/Her/Hers
UCD Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Undergraduate Student

Jay Lounds
They/Them/Theirs
UCD Undergraduate Student
B.S. Community and Regional

KateMarie Boccone
She/Her/Hers
Vice Chair of YDSA at UC Davis
Democratic Party Delegate in AD4

Mati Kuss
They/Them/Theirs
UCD Undergraduate Student and Community Organizer

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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11 Comments

  1. Craig Ross

    Perfect example of the new Vanguard change.  Under the old rules, there would have been 30 to 50 comments already.  Most of them less than helpful.  I agree with this article as I tried to point out last week.  You can’t hide from current usage of the flag.  And Sharla pointed out, people are using the flag to tweak Davis not just to support the police.

    1. Matt Williams

      Craig Ross said . . .  You can’t hide from current usage of the flag.

      Craig, when you refer to the “current usage of the flag” are you referring to the current usage here in the Davis community?  Or are you referring to current usage outside the Davis community?

      And in a related question, when Natalie Corona made the decision to include the flag in her 2016 photographic portrait, do you think that the “current usage of the flag”factored at all into her decision to include it in her image?

        1. Matt Williams

          I agree.  I doubt Natalie had anything other than positive intentions when she conceived of the portrait image.  I suspect it was a celebration of all the things that were making her personally happy at the time.  That feeling of intense personal joy jumps out of the image.

          Regarding instigation, have you seen instances of what you have described as the “current usage” here in the Davis community?  I personally haven’t.  However, instances of backlash against “current usage” outside the Davis community have clearly come to Davis.  The article above is but one example of that . . . and the bad behavior that many of the authors have been fielding compounds the problem.

    2. Alan Miller

      Most of them less than helpful.

      Most of them less than helpful to support your beliefs, but very helpful for an open dialog with a variety of challenging beliefs.  Not the ones that drone on because they cannot be the last one in an argument, producing 50 comments, but rather the ones that used to post opposing opinions.  While I fully agree with the anonymity drop and have supported that for years, the loss of several people (their doing as they choose not to post now) is not helpful, except for those who like to live in an echo chamber of their own mind.

  2. Edgar Wai

    Which of these signers got death threats? In what format did they get them? Were the senders identified? If they don’t trust the police, could they share the threats for us to investigate?

  3. Edgar Wai

    I think that the death threats were important topics. But it seems that there is no way to talk about them so now I talk about the points against Blue Lives Matter in term of the points made against it.

    1) Overall Structure: To me, I think an article against Blue Lives Matter would be easier to read if the authors just link to the mission statement or the “about us” section of their official webpage and disprove those points one by one. Blue Lives Matter admitted that they existed to counter Black Lives Matter, but they say that the did so because the Media was lying about the police. Reacting to aggression is called self-defense. There is nothing wrong with that. There is a problem with lying. Which side is lying?  I think the article needs to focus on that. The whole article seemed anecdotal. Where is the actual case against Blue Lives Matter?

    2) The danger of police work: The authors said police work was not among the top 10 most fatal jobs. I think that was a rather irrelevant argument. The examples of the more fatal jobs all involve a dangerous environment, not killing by an enemy. To show why such comparison is irrelevant, imagine that professional deathmatch is a thing: people go to a boxing ring and fight to the death to entertain the people. The fatality rate of such profession is extremely high. How do you compare that to the police? Is one more honorable than the other. How do you compare honor? To counter the reasons why some people think “police lives matter more”, the authors need to first define the context and why two different professions are comparable.

  4. Alan Miller

    My reaction to this article is to quote from the beautiful commentary by Jann Murray-García in the Davis Enterprise [https://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/heartbroken-over-officer-coronas-death/]. 

    While I rarely agree with the political aspects of JMG’s views on race, I do find her a person of great intention and integrity.  Her comments on the Flag-Corona issue were spot on:

    [We are] heartbroken for her, for Natalie, already fulfilling her dreams to be of service to others in such a dangerous profession.
    *****
    I was very upset to read about criticism of the flag in which Natalie so stunningly draped herself in that now-iconic photo. I did not know it is considered by some as a symbol of rebuke against those who protest excessive and racially differential use of force by law enforcement.

    I took Natalie at her word on her Facebook post: “I would like this photograph to serve as my gratitude for all those law enforcement men and women who have served, who are currently serving, and those who have died in the line of duty protecting our liberties in this great country.”
    *****
    Two things can be true at the same time:
    * It remains difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that with each police officer’s shift, they and their families have no guarantee that they will return home alive.
    * I have also worked to humanize those who lost their lives to excessive use of force by law enforcement.
    *****
    [My daughter] believed Natalie could be that agent of change that the Black Lives Matter movement advocates for, a young, strong woman of color who had a heart for this community.
    *****
    What I see as the main difference between the authors of this article and JMG is that JMG has compassion for and treats the police as human, the very state that the authors of this article are asking for in societal recognition for marginalized groups.

  5. Alan Miller

    Note that an ASUCD resolution honoring Natalie Corona was not passed by the ASUCD senate in a special meeting called by Michael Gofman on Friday evening.  Details are here:

    https://theaggie.org/2019/01/21/legislation-recognizing-death-of-natalie-corona-not-passed-at-special-senate/

    Instead, a public forum was called by the ASUCD vice president in order to hear more community input.  This forum will take place today (Tuesday) from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm in the CoHo.

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