Since returning from college this spring, a would-be activist has been pushing for the removal of “thin blue line” flag decals from Sartell Police Department vehicles.
Originating in the 1950s, the “thin blue line” is a term that refers to the police as a barrier or line keeping communities they protect from descending into the chaos we’ve recently seen in major cities.
In her petition, Hannah Kosloski — who uses “they/them” pronouns — claims the flag has been co-opted by groups like Blue Lives Matter to oppose so-called racial justice.
“Although it is not the intent of the Sartell PD, flying and adorning the thin blue line flag directly isolates our community members of color and makes a mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement,” the 22-year-old activist lectured in part.
“The flag no longer just means solidarity and sacrifice. It is now used as a tool of oppression and hatred by pro-policing groups like ‘Blue Lives Matter’ in response to calls of racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism towards Black people in our communities. We all need to be taking direct action to learn, re-learn, and assess our own racial bias in order to address national systemic issues that exist in our own backyards. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Because more than 90% of Sartell’s 18,000 residents are white, Kosloski accuses her town of “implicit racial bias.”
A counterpetition to keep the flags on Sartell squad cars has currently amassed more than double the signatures in the community north of St. Cloud.
Sartell Mayor Ryan Fitzthum has not publicly commented on the situation, but in a private email to Kosloski — reviewed by the Star Tribune — he said he respected her perspective but explained the decal “truly represents the courage and sacrifice that our officers display day in and day out while keeping our community safe.”
It’s also noteworthy that the “thin blue line” is used on the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial on the State Capitol grounds, as well as on Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association license plates.
“We firmly believe we can support one thing without being in opposition or against another,” Fitzthum wrote.
When asked by the St. Cloud Times about the debate in nearby Sartell, Avon Police Chief Corey Nellis, who wears a bracelet with a blue line to remember officer Tom Decker, killed in the line of duty a decade ago, said, “I think in some cases, this isn’t constructive criticism, this isn’t something that’s helping bridge the gaps in our communities.”
Three miles west of Sartell in St. Joseph, Police Chief Dwight Pfannenstein says the department’s cars sport an American flag. Since he started on the force 15 years ago, he doesn’t recall hearing a single complaint about the imagery.
“I understand that people use that blue line to kind of show their support, but when you are the police, you kind of don’t support yourself. I mean it’s almost like being redundant to put it on there,” Pfannenstein said.
While most local police departments have policies prohibiting officers from expressing their personal views on duty, because a thin blue line flag decal is not overtly political, having it on a car or in an office does not violate policy guidelines.