It took mass protests and everyone carrying around a camera in their pocket for white America to start to wake up what people of color, especially black people, have always known: police departments across the country are racist, abusive, and accountable to no one.
They desperately need drastic reform, or to be replaced with a better system of protecting and serving the people.
There has to be some kind of reckoning, and some kind of change. It has to happen soon. Proposals to defund police, and/or narrowly limit the scope of their activities, are gaining traction. I have no problem with either of those proposals, and I think we should seriously investigate them. White supremacist rot needs to be rooted out at all levels.
But first, the statues have to come tumbling down.
I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense. Protesters have been tearing down actual statues this past week, including a statue of a Confederate general in Richmond and a British slave trader in the U.K. city of Bristol. The governor of Virginia has pledged to get rid of the statue of Robert E. Lee that’s long stood in Richmond, and good riddance. I won’t be sad to see that old traitor go.
While we’re taking statues down, there’s one that should be on the list in Windsor of John Mason, who led a massacre against Pequot villagers in the 17th century.
We don’t need Robert E. Lee glorified on a literal pedestal high above us, looking majestic as the hero of some grand Lost Cause. We need to know about his racism, his treason, and the defense of human slavery his abortive nation founded itself on.
Likewise, we don’t need a swashbuckling statue of a heroic John Mason. We need to know the history of the Pequot War, how a tribe was almost completely destroyed in a brutal manner, and how indigenous people were robbed of land and life in Connecticut.
Taking the statues down doesn’t mean we forget history. Rather, we’re forgetting the old lies, and discovering the truth.
Statues aren’t the only way a group can be glorified. The police don’t have a statue, but they do have a flag. You’ve seen it; it’s a black and white American flag with a blue stripe replacing one of the white ones. This is the thin blue line flag, also known as the “Blue Lives Matter” flag.
Both terms are noxious and offensive. The “thin blue line” is a play on the “thin red line,” which was a term referring to a formation of British soldiers. Generally, the thin blue line is understood to be the police as a barrier between law and order and utter anarchy. But police should not be soldiers! They should definitely not behave like an occupying force in a hostile city, which they too often do.
The thin blue line is propaganda.
As for “Blue Lives Matter,” well, the nice way to put that is to say it’s a counter-movement against Black Lives Matter based around the idea that police lives are in danger. The brutal truth is that it’s a vicious, sneering troll, the retort of the powerful against a movement that dared to challenge them.
That’s why I want that flag gone.
Never mind the fact that it’s used by white supremacists and the hard right, or its appearance next to the Confederate flag on the backs of pickup trucks. Even just its use by police is far from benign.
In Cincinnati, during the middle of Black Lives Matter protests last week, a group of police from the county replaced the American flag with the thin blue line flag above the city’s justice center. They claimed the American flag was already “stolen” and that they raised the flag to honor an officer who was shot. But the symbolism is chilling.
So if you want to fly that flag, think about why, and think about what message that sends to your friends and neighbors. Then, make the right choice and throw the damn thing away.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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