Monday Morning Thoughts: Can We Find a Way to Honor Natalie without ‘Thin Blue Line’ Flag?

By David M. Greenwald

It was just two years ago Davis suffered a horrifying and tragic loss as Natalie Corona was gunned down on Fifth Street as she attempted to provide assistance to a vehicle accident.  In some ways that moment seems like yesterday and yet, in many ways, it seems like something in the very distant past.

The Ocean Township Police Department in New Jersey delivered a lovely gift—a photo collage of dozens of young women (presumably police officers), in blue dresses posed with the blue lives matter flag as Natalie does in the photo that has in Davis become iconic for the image of this young woman, struck down way too soon.

When Natalie died in 2019, there was already concern by many in the social justice community that blue lives matter, which was a pushback by police officers against the Black Lives Matter movement, was not an appropriate way to be recognizing and honoring someone who has been a unifying figure that largely brought this community together.

With everything that has happened, that is even more so today.

The Facebook post drew 2300 likes, 464 shares, and 190 comments.  Most of course, supportive.  But there was some pushback.

Some noted that many of the protesters last week storming the Capitol were flying the Blue Lives Matter flag.  Even more ironic since at least one officer died (another committed suicide this weekend) during the siege last week.

One person noted: “Would Natalie have also flown this racist flag if she were to storm or protect the capital? Its a shame she died, but that’s the legacy in question she leaves behind now considering how insensitive the Davis police are to the current landscape. Always nice to see where the Davis police stand morally, where uniformed lives matter more then POC.”

I feel very strongly about the tragic death of Natalie Corona, but I also feel very strongly that glorifying what have become symbols of hate and division is not the appropriate way to do that.

This is a touchy subject and, out of respect for the Corona family, I have not posted the photo here.  You can see the Facebook post here.

The best article I have found on the history of the “Thin Blue Line” American Flag comes on June 8 from the Marshall Project.

“The controversial version of the U.S. flag has been hailed as a sign of police solidarity and criticized as a symbol of white supremacy,” they write.

They note: “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.”

They trace the origins of the flag to 2014, when a white college student watching the protests ended up creating “Thin Blue Line USA.

“The flag has no association with racism, hatred, bigotry,” he said. “It’s a flag to show support for law enforcement—no politics involved.”

Indeed, the company disavowed its use in Charlottesville.

The title is a little ironic as well, as the “Thin Blue Line” theme has been around for some time, but perhaps was boosted by the 1988 film by Errol Morris which is a documentary featuring a Dallas judge describing what separates “the public from anarchy.”

As the Marshall Project notes, “The title was ironic, if not sly, since the film depicted how law enforcement sent an innocent man to death row.”

They point out, “Although the flag’s manufacturers have tried to keep politics away from the flag, the current protests over the death of George Floyd have thrust the image into larger debates.”

For example, “In Cold Spring, New York, local leaders debated last week whether placing a decal of the flag on a police car would make some people afraid to ask officers for help. In Montclair, New Jersey, a police leader begged residents on a Zoom call not to view the flag as a ‘symbol of racism.’”

But the problem as Melina Abdullah, LA’s co-founder of Black Lives Matter, points out, “We’ve seen trucks riding around with big old versions.”  She said, “It feels akin to a Confederate flag.”

She noted she “has also noticed the flag’s image on police and other government-owned vehicles,” and she “sees this as evidence that even self-described liberal officials are not doing enough to combat white supremacy.”

There was a controversy in San Francisco when Chief Bill Scott “banned his officers from wearing face masks emblazoned with the thin blue line flag, worrying they would be seen as “divisive and disrespectful.” The masks had been distributed by the local police union, which accused the department of failing to provide masks.”

“We did it as a morale booster for each other,” union president Tony Montoya said, “not as a political statement.”

Given the adversarial stance the SF Public Officer’s Association has taken to reforms, I think many would consider that a disingenuous statement at best.  Boosting the morale of officers through symbols that are viewed as potentially racist and are polarizing does not seem to be the right way to go.

The timing of all this strikes some as inappropriate as well.

The Washington Post noted in an article last week, “In a crowd where some carried flags bearing a thin blue line — a pro-police symbol that critics claim also stands for white supremacy and opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement — and shirts adorned with ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ a tide of anger and frustration rose as officers pushed them back.”

The Post adds, “Conservatives and members of the far-right long have sought to position themselves on the same side of the societal and cultural divide as police. Republicans backed President Trump’s campaign message of ‘law and order,’ and amid rising calls to ‘defund the police’ during racial justice protests last year, the GOP was swift to criticize efforts to shrink police budgets. Police unions and officers vocally supported Trump’s bid for a second term.

“But on Wednesday, as the Capitol was being breached and ransacked, people who see themselves as friends of the police were confronted with the reality that law enforcement would not always respond in kind.”

Rightly or wrongly, the Thin Blue Line flag will always be associated with this period of American history—the pushback against the Black Lives Matter movement intertwined with the rise of right wing Trumpism.

From all that I have learned about Natalie Corona over the years, that is not what she was about.  I think we need to fight to preserve her legacy as being above these tumultuous times.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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58 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    “The flag has no association with racism, hatred, bigotry,” he said. “It’s a flag to show support for law enforcement—no politics involved.”

    The flag shows support and appreciation for law enforcement who have often been under attack.  I see nothing wrong with the flag.  If some are offended by it so be it, they’ll have to deal with it.  There will always be those that look for something to be triggered about in just about everything.

    1. David Greenwald

      “I see nothing wrong with the flag. If some are offended by it so be it, they’ll have to deal with it. ”

      This is exactly the point. Some may see nothing wrong with the flag. But it has become controversial, so now you are taking something meant to honor Natalie – who deserves honor – and turning into something that is polarizing.

        1. Tia Will

          Keith

          You have neatly illustrated why we are polarized as a country. You have shown a profound disrespect for and disregard of the beliefs of others. This is the essence and height of polarization.

          It is entirely possible for people to have differing views of symbols. This is true for statues of white supremacists in the south, of burning crosses, of swastikas, of the statue of Gandhi here in town, of the street markings of Black Lives Matter, and unfortunately of the Thin Blue Line.

          The problem IMO is not that we have differing views of the meanings of these symbols, it is that some are adamant that their view is the only correct view, and want to force that view on others.

          From everything I have heard about Natalie Corona, she is not an individual who would have wanted a symbol she held dear used to intimidate others who saw it as a threat.

          She does not seem like a “just deal with it” kind of individual to me and I hope we can find a way to honor her that is all-inclusive and respectful of all whom she sought to serve.

           

        2. Keith Olsen

          The problem IMO is not that we have differing views of the meanings of these symbols, it is that some are adamant that their view is the only correct view, and want to force that view on others.

          And are you doing the same thing here, are you trying to force your views on others?

          Notice, I phrased it in the form of a question.

        3. Matt Williams

          Keith, my answer to the question you posed to Tia is a qualified “yes.”

          With that said, the qualification is a substantial one in my opinion.  In the case of the display of the blue line symbol, and the uncomfortable (or worse) feelings it engenders, the choice to be exposed to the flag is not voluntary … the recurring display of the flag is a catalyzing event. On the other hand, if the decision is made to be considerate of all people’s feelings and not display the blue line symbol, then there is no recurring catalyzing event that creates uncomfortable (or worse) feelings on anyone’s part.

          The difference is similar to the difference between being actually poked in the eye versus being told that you were not poked in the eye.  Which of those two options would you choose to experience if given the choice.

  2. Tia Will

    No. I am not. I am asking for us all to be thoughtful about what any given symbol might mean for others whose life experiences may be different from our own before we insist that our way is the “correct” way of seeing it.

    1. David Greenwald

      To add to Tia’s point, my point was simply that if we want Natalie’s memory to be a community unifying experience we should avoid using symbols that are divisive. Your response was simply to assert your own opinion of the symbol while accusing me and people who think like me of polarizing. My piece actually showed the other side of the fence but argued that it remains polarizing.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Excuse me, but it is you who first accused me of turning it into something polarizing.

        But it has become controversial, so now you are taking something meant to honor Natalie – who deserves honor – and turning into something that is polarizing.

         

        1. David Greenwald

          Yes

          But after you said, they’ll just have to deal with it. They will deal with it, as they have by turning something that could be unifying into another poltiical debate.

  3. Bill Marshall

    Find two things interesting:

    1.  that the flag is black, white, blue… in the images I had seen before (not seeing on ‘for reals’), I had seen it as a ‘regular’ flag, with one red stripe substituted with a blue one… fascinating that you see things you ‘expect’, even when they are not there…

    2.  why the “flag” was brought up as an “issue” at all, then tied to Natalie Corona, then back-pedalling and saying it is NOT tied to Ms Corona…

    On the second ‘thing’, would be curious to understand why it is brought up here, and now…

    This may sound retro, but I actually have a problem with the misuse of the flag… substitution of a red stripe with a blue one is bad enough, but the black, white, and blue one is even more disrespectful of America, and those that have served under it.  There is a reason why veterans have it drape over their caskets.  Then, it is triangularly folded, and given to next of kin, and not interred with the casket.

    It’s casual use is inappropriate… same for ‘artistic modification’ of the flag

    There are those who will say, ‘what does it matter?  It’s just cloth… same could be said about the confederate flag, or the Nazi flag.  Just like saying that a ‘work of art’ (publically funded) crucifex submersed in urine is just ‘art’ and fully First Amendment protected… but appropriate?  Decent?  Worthy of admiration?

    Yeah, police are used to ignoring the ‘flag code’… a form of law.  [U.S. Flag Code | Military.com] Besides ‘modifications’, there are prohibitions about flying it at half staff, except in certain prescribed situations… but if any police officer, anywhere is killed in the line of duty, in California (anywhere), police departments (including DPD) unilaterally choose to fly the flag @ half-mast, contrary to the Code… that to, is disrespect to the flag…

    1. Ron Oertel

      This may sound retro, but I actually have a problem with the misuse of the flag…

      How about Jimi Hendrix’ rendition of the Star Spangled Banner?  (Which I always thought was very cool.)

  4. Bill Marshall

    From everything I have heard about Natalie Corona, she is not an individual who would have wanted a symbol she held dear used to intimidate others who saw it as a threat.

    This isn’t about Ms Corona… the flag existed for a long time before that picture… I can’t imagine why David brought her in the narrative, at all!

    There is no evidence that she “held it dear”… her casket was not draped with it.

    Some feel the symbolism of the actual American Flag is a ‘threat’… should we eliminate it in order to be respectful of the beliefs of others?

    1. Tia Will

      Bill

      Some feel the symbolism of the actual American Flag is a ‘threat’… should we eliminate it in order to be respectful of the beliefs of others?”

      No one said anything about eliminating the flag. My call was for the consideration of the feelings of others before making disrespectful and dismissive comments about them having to “just get over it”. Is that really too much to ask?

       

       

  5. Keith Olsen

    Natalie’s own words written under the photo of her draped in the flag:

    “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”

    This is what the flag is meant to represent and obviously meant to her.  Why is this a problem?

    The person who photographed Natalie said:

    “She chose the outfit, she chose the flag,”

    https://www.ktvu.com/news/the-story-behind-this-image-of-slain-davis-police-officer-natalie-corona

  6. Tia Will

    Bill

    1. David explained in the article why the association between the Thin Blue Line Flag and Natalie Corona now in the article. But to summarize, a group had compiled pictures of female ( presumably police officers) holding the Thin Blue Line flag as Natalie Corona had done in her iconic photograph that her family had identified as being particularly meaningful to her.

    2. If you doubt the association of this particular flag with Natalie Corona, please enter her name in Google and note the 1st picture that comes up in association with her. It was her choice of pose and noted be family to be one of her favorites.

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      Unless the article was generated from his link being published elsewhere, no, he did NOT explain why he felt it necessary to link the flag with Ms Corona… he could have just shown an image of the flag, say from the Wednesday events…

      He has also not explained why the article is posted just now…

  7. Eric Gelber

    The problem isn’t necessarily with displaying a symbol of police solidarity and professional pride. It’s the particular symbol that has been used to express that sentiment.

    A “thin blue line” suggests an us versus them mentality. The flag suggests a divided nation. It’s not surprising that such  a slogan and symbol would have different meanings than initially intended to those who have been disparately the victims of police violence and groups promoting police solidarity, and then co-opted by groups advocating racial supremacy.

    The intent may have been worthy but the means used for expression of the sentiment was unfortunate.

  8. Ron Oertel

    Can We Find a Way to Honor Natalie without ‘Thin Blue Line’ Flag?

    Who is “we”?

    The police officers, themselves?  Their families?  The city that sent the gift?
    The image was already “controversial” within communities when Natalie Corona died.  Probably not so controversial for those more directly impacted by such deaths.

    I suspect that it’s (somewhat) “inconvenient” for those offended by this when a non-white, female officer uses that symbol.

  9. Ron Oertel

    One image that comes to mind (regarding the “thin blue line”) is the black police officer being pursued by white protesters in the Capitol, up the stairs.  Swinging his club, while backing away.

  10. Ron Glick

    Burning the flag is protected speech but somehow changing its colors is speech that is too offensive to be tolerated. Please! Let Natalie Corona rest in peace and spare her family from this painful nonsense.

        1. Ron Oertel

          I don’t think you want to know the answer to that, David.  🙂

          Though sometimes it’s backtracked.

          Personally, I used to read them a lot more carefully (and took them more seriously).

          1. David Greenwald

            It was a rhetorical question. But the answer to why now is that the anniversary happened, a gift was made, the issue is relevant given what’s happened in the past week and past year.

          1. David Greenwald

            Someone forwarded it to me. I’m sure I would have stumbled on it anyway given how many likes and shares there were.

    1. Bill Marshall

      There are differences, in the Flag Code, Ron G… burning a flag is actually the preferred manner for disposing of an old, soiled, and/or tattered flag…

      Burning a flag for protest may be protected speech… doesn’t mean it isn’t offensive, doesn’t mean it’s “OK”, just that it is not prosecutable, in and of itself… if burning a flag in protest was meant to incite equally free speech opposing that act, resulting in violence on either ‘side’, that could be a crime… if someone starts to burn a flag, I have an arguably same free (protected) speech right to stop that, short of violence.

      1. Ron Oertel

         if someone starts to burn a flag, I have an arguably same free (protected) speech right to stop that, short of violence.

        I don’t think so, unless it’s your property.  And attempting to do so would have a high probability of leading to violence.

         

  11. Eric Gelber

    Burning the flag is protected speech but somehow changing its colors is speech that is too offensive to be tolerated.

    It’s not about tolerating. It’s about seeing things from others’ point of view.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Tolerance is not necessarily one-sided.

      In this particular case (a gift from one police department to another – which experienced a deep personal loss), I’d suggest such tolerance.

      I would think that her family is probably aware of the gift, as well. Those are the people whom I’d care most about, in this situation.

    2. Ron Oertel

      To clarify, yes – “seeing things from other’s point of view” – like you said.

      And in this case, some are far more impacted than others. And I’m not seeing any concern from the police department(s) or Natalie’s family, regarding the use of the symbol.

      Maybe some will try to speculate that Natalie herself would have “changed her mind” about the symbol by this point, but I’d suggest not engaging in such speculation.

      1. Eric Gelber

        My comments and, I believe, the article here, are not about Natalie Corona. Rather, they are about the broader issue of sensitivity to and awareness of the impact of symbols and words on communities with vastly different histories and experiences. The anniversary of Natalie Corona’s death is merely an occasion to revisit these issues.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Nothing wrong with that.

          Some might argue that Natalie herself came from a community that has been discriminated against.  And yet, she chose that symbol.

          I suspect that she’s not the only “person of color” (and/or female gender) within police departments to do so.

  12. Dave Hart

    Symbols rarely escape their origin and only have power that people give to them.  The christian cross is very old and has an extremely broad fan base.  Over time however, it has become less meaningful because it is worn not only by religious leaders, but tattooed on the faces of the most heinous criminals.  It is a symbol that has been pulled in so many different directions that it has become meaningless, a fashion ornament.

    The U.S. flag is undergoing a tug of war for significance.  It began as a symbol of unity for national independence and rebellion with the lofty goals written down in the Declaration and Constitution.  It’s used at Black Lives Matter rallies as well as by the Capitol terrorists.  It has retained its unifying power even now.

    The Nazi flag as a symbol is so buried in Nazi ideology that it can never be reclaimed by decent people.  Its meaning was never under contention; as the Confederate flag was never under contention for its meaning.

    A symbol that is divisive at its inception will retain that effect for all who view it regardless of the subjective individual meaning conferred on it in the short term.

  13. Hiram Jackson

    This news item really concerned me.  I hope there are follow up investigations.

    These Black Capitol Police Officers Describe Fighting Off “Racist-Ass Terrorists”

    The officer even described coming face to face with police officers from across the country in the mob. He said some of them flashed the badges, telling him to let them through, and trying to explain that this was all part of a movement that was supposed to help.

    “You have the nerve to be holding a blue lives matter flag, and you are out there f***ing us up,” he told one group of protestors he encountered inside the Capitol. “[One guy] pulled out his badge and he said, ‘we’re doing this for you.’ Another guy had his badge. So I was like, ‘well, you gotta be kidding.’”

    1. Dave Hart

      Thanks for the link.  I’d heard of this.  It’s pretty apparent, regardless of what people would prefer to believe, that the Blue Police Flag symbol is anything but ambiguous.

        1. Dave Hart

          I was not aware of that, but the extensive comments by the black police officer, if true, should come out as a result of the investigations going on right now.  As someone likes to say so often, “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

  14. Sharla Cheney

    As last week’s attack on the Capital and the beating and killing of police officers at Trump’s behest clearly demonstrates that the #bluelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter phrase was nothing more than a racist dismissal of the message of BLM. The adoption of the Blue Line flag by white supremacist groups is unfortunate and don’t know what they’ve twisted it to mean.  The thin blue line is an offshoot of the phrase “Thin Red Line” meaning a thinly spread military protecting from an attack.  It was originally created as a fundraiser to support the families of fallen police officers and is meant as a way to honor and appreciate the role of the police in the community.  It was never intended to be a battle flag in the effort to defend and protect the police.  I’m sure our police officers would quickly declare that they don’t need these idiots to defend and protect them.   I suspect any symbol created to honor police would be deemed offensive, in this political climate.  I don’t think abandoning the use of the symbol and finding another would do any good.

    1. Dave Hart

      Sharla, if the symbol keeps showing up like it has, it will be more and more a negative symbol in the public consciousness.  People who use symbols have only so much wiggle room to reinterpret them and get their version to be accepted.  Good officers like Natalie Corona don’t need symbols like this one and the bad officers are all too willing to hide behind them.  That’s another problem with this symbol.

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