Montgomery, AL – The Burlington Police Department (BPD) is facing backlash for posting a photo that showed one of department’s lieutenants wearing a Thin Blue Line Flag shirt.
The photo was taken while Burlington Police Lieutenant Justin Couture and eight other BPD employees were visiting The Legacy Museum and other Civil Rights Movement exhibits in Montgomery, BPD said in a Facebook post on June 26.
The department-sponsored trip was part of the agency’s implicit bias training, which is managed and overseen by Lt. Couture, Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo told Seven Days.
One of the photos the BPD posted of the trip showed Lt. Couture wearing a Thin Blue Line flag shirt, which he received from the Vermont Center for Responder Wellness, the department said.
The wellness center is a treatment center that assists first responders with traumas they have suffered in the line of duty, Seven Days reported.
Chief del Pozo said that Lt. Couture wore the shirt to raise public awareness about law enforcement officers’ mental health struggles.
Lt. Couture recently lost two friends – both of whom were New York Police Department officers – to suicide, the chief added.
The Thin Blue Line flag, which is a sign of support for active-duty police officers and a symbol of honor for fallen officers, has been frequently mislabeled by Black Lives Matter activists.
They claim that the flag is a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Thin Blue Line flag was created long before Black Lives Matter ever existed.
In fact, the term “thin blue line” has been popular with law enforcement officers since the 1950s.
Chief del Pozo said that the image is a symbol that law enforcement officers “can identify with,” Seven Days reported.
But shortly after the photo was posted, critics slammed the lieutenant for wearing a pro-police shirt to exhibits that focus on civil rights issues.
“This is startlingly poor taste at best, and intentional harm to the people at that memorial — and people seeing this post — at worst,” one commenter posted.
“The shirt shows me they didn’t go to learn,” another wrote. “The post shows they didn’t learn.”
Another commenter declared that Lt. Couture should issue a public apology for wearing the shirt.
“This is incredibly inappropriate on so many levels. And the photo feels purposeful,” she wrote. “Even if this is pure ignorance, this is racism, privilege, and power at its core. BPD needs an entire change. I request this officer apologize publicly.”
Rutland Area National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Tabitha Moore said that the image was a “face-palm moment” that offended many people who viewed it, and she scoffed at how the department handled the backlash.
“It’s that sort of behavior that makes it really difficult for people in marginalized communities to feel like people in positions of power, in this case law enforcement, are really understanding how what they do, even in moments like this, can have a profound effect,” Moore told Seven Days.
Lt. Couture said that he had no intention of offending people by wearing his Thin Blue Line shirt.
“I realize not everyone sees the thin blue line symbol that way, and the museum and memorial are reminders of that fact,” he told Seven Days.
But Moore said that Chief del Pozo needs to make sure something like this never happens again.
“What is [del Pozo] going to do differently in the future to make sure people who go there…don’t step into things like this?” she asked. “And if they do, how do they respond? [Hopefully] with curiosity, compassion, understanding rather than defensiveness…I hope that he really takes it to heart.”
Joseph Murphy, a retired police officer who now runs patriotic apparel company Warrior 12, incorporates the flag in many of the company's shirt designs. (DISCLOSURE: Warrior 12 produces official Blue Lives Matter shirts and gear and the proceeds support Blue Lives Matter. )
Warrior 12 just launched a Betsy Ross version of the thin blue line flag in response to the Nike controversy surrounding the flag.
Murphy told Blue Lives Matter that he suspects that the people upset about Lt. Couture's shirt are upset for the same reason that Colin Kaepernick declared the Betsy Ross flag was offensive.
"There's nothing racist about this flag," Murphy explained to Blue Lives Matter. "The problem is that racial identitarians like Kaepernick tend to see everything through the lens of racism."
"The Thin Blue Line represents brave law enforcement officers from all backgrounds; just as the Betsy Ross flag represents that all men were created equal. But equality will always be offensive to people who want to be perpetual victims," Murphy concluded. "We won't ever back down to this madness."