State Watch

San Francisco police chief orders officers not to wear ‘thin blue line’ masks

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott ordered officers not to wear face masks featuring the “thin blue line” symbol amid controversy over the masks making an appearance during a May Day protest.

In an email to officers, Scott told them that while he personally considered the emblem “a meaningful expression to honor fallen officers,” others consider it “divisive and disrespectful,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Numerous officers were photographed wearing the masks Friday during a housing rights protest by activists who occupied a vacant property in the city’s Castro District.

Scott added that he has taken immediate steps to provide neutral personal protective equipment to officers, saying that once that equipment is made available the masks will no longer be allowed.

Masks featuring the symbol, a black-and-white American flag with a single horizontal blue stripe, were distributed by members of the San Francisco PD union. The symbol dates back decades, including in its use by the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial, but it grew in popularity in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and is often associated with the Blue Lives Matter movement, which seeks to make killing police officers a hate crime. Black Lives Matter figures have criticized the slogan, arguing that it wrongly conflates the law enforcement profession with race.

“The thin blue line is a political symbol,” John Crew, a retired civil rights lawyer, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “And it’s a [Police Officers Association] POA-branded mask. It’s like wearing a political button.” Officers are prohibited from expressing political opinions in uniform under departmental policy.

POA President Tony Montoya told the Chronicle the union showed the masks to Scott’s command staff and said several requested more than one. Montoya added that the symbol “represents law enforcement’s separation of order and chaos.”

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