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After outcry, ODOT removes ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag from state property

Posted by on February 1st, 2021 at 11:29 am

ODOT field office on Highway 26 at Timberline Road flying a Thin Blue Line flag that has since been removed.
(Photo via @design_hole on Twitter)

The Oregon Department of Transportation has pulled down a Thin Blue Line flag that was flying on state-owned property.

The presence of the flag was noted by a Portland Twitter user who posted a photo of the image on Saturday (1/30) along with the message: “Why does the taxpayer-funded @OregonDOT lot at Hwy 26 & Timberline Rd have a Thin Blue Line flag on its flagpole?”

The post spread quickly and the majority of respondents expressed concern and tagged Oregon Governor Kate Brown in their messages. “Beyond inappropriate,” said one. “Gonna do anything about this racist flag on our community property @OregonGovBrown?” asked another.

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The black, white, and blue flag design has a complicated history. It began as a way to show support for police officers, with the “thin blue line” representing law enforcement personnel who hold the line against society devolving into chaos. In recent years however, it has taken on very different connotations and is now a popular symbol for fascists, white supremacists and anti-government extremists. It was flown by many insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

Oregon has a very racist history and our towns and cities have been considered a safe haven and fertile recruiting ground for white supremacists since our founding.

We reached out to ODOT Communications Manager Tom Fuller for comment over the weekend. Fuller was unable to reply but someone from his office emailed a statement Monday morning saying they “took immediate steps to remove it.” ODOT’s full statement is below:

“ODOT follows state policy [Department of Administrative Services policy 107-011-160] requiring ‘principal public buildings’ to fly the United States flag, the Oregon state flag and the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag OR the U.S. and state flag if it’s not possible to fly all three. While field offices aren’t considered principal buildings the state encourages agencies to fly flags at such facilities.

When we learned of the thin blue line flag being flown, we took immediate steps to remove it. As of Saturday afternoon the flag was no longer flying on ODOT property.

While we recognize this particular flag was originally intended to demonstrate support for our law enforcement community, it now symbolizes broader messages inconsistent with ODOT’s values and commitment to social equity. In addition, as a matter of policy, ODOT does not fly flags other than the U.S. flag, the State of Oregon flag, and POW/MIA flags.”

ODOT is just the latest agency to work quickly to stamp out this symbol that might embolden racists. In 2017, Multnomah County removed a Thin Blue Line flag from a breakroom. And in September 2020 the City of Bend removed a sticker of the flag from all police patrol cars.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

Too bad. Another example of lack of support for law enforcement. Sure, some mis-use the ‘thin blue line’ image, but for most of the public, it symbolizes the important role that LE plays in ensuring a law-abiding society. Unfortunatley, LE is now viewed as a negative force.

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

Agree they should only be flying laws allowed by state law. It is unfortunate that this flag which was originally used to support law enforcement (a needed entity in a civil society) has morphed into some sort of negative icon. I hope the we as Americans can unite behind proudly flying the US flag as a symbol of freedom and justice. Let’s not let the rednecks in gas guzzling pick up trucks steal thIs powerful symbol of a free society from us. 🙂 Fly the Stars and Stripes!

Evan
Guest
Evan

there isn’t a non-problematic interpretation of the thin blue line flag: if police are protecting the good people from the bad people, then the bad people are undeserving of the protection of society. after all, if the police were here to protect everybody, where would you even draw a line? why would you draw a line with everyone on the same side?

Andrew N
Guest
Andrew N

Yeah, this is a real shame. We all know, as most of the public (wink wink) do, that the lies about the history of law enforcement in this country being spread by BLM and other extremely radical leftists are designed to destroy Western Civilization. It’s really disturbing that our fascist transportation department has silenced the voices of those working-class employees on Mt Hood who understand all too well what will happen if we defund the police and reform the justice system: our well-ordered (just look around!), law-abiding, justice-centered, democratic society will devolve into utter chaos (uh, ok, maybe you shouldn’t look around) and the barbarians will be left to wreak havoc upon the most exceptional, freedom-loving, God-blessed nation in 4,000 years of human history. /s

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

People who are making money off selling the flag all say that it wasn’t intended as a racist symbol, just like people flying the confederate flag, but I certainly never encountered the thin blue line flag as anything else and I think we should stop giving people who are selling it/buying it/flying it the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t trying to send an intimidating racist message.

Jason Skelton
Guest
Jason Skelton

Thank you for seeing this done. LE is not separating us from chaos. We separate ourselves from chaos by having a civil society.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Flag removed, good. Now, what about the person who put it up there? Do they face any repercussions for using a government facility to make a personal political statement?

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

ODOT is just the latest agency to work quickly to stamp out this symbol that might embolden racists.

Uh, that flag has been flying there since at least early December when I first saw it. The question is; what did ODOT do about the manager who allowed it to be flown? Nothing? Got it.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

Because of the quickly changing nature of symbols I don’t think any flags should fly above a state institution but the national flag and the state flag. But that said, I am personally miffed at this whole phenomenon of a thing of neutral symbolism being turned in to someone’s symbol of hate or violence. I have a large collection of Aloha shirts ( Hawaiian shirts to mainlanders) that have been given to me over the years by my in-laws in Hawaii. Now I feel that I can’t wear them anymore (outside of Hawaii that is) because they have become a symbol of the Boogaloo Boys. Which is a violent right wing group that wants to bring down society by battling their enemies the cops. In addition to bumming me out because it makes my shirt collection useless, it also confuses me because we seem to have both left and right wing groups who want to do battle with the cops. Can’t we just get an organized approach to hateful symbology and assign each group some rational symbol like skulls, snakes, scorpions daggers and leave Aloha shirts and weird American flags alone?

ralph
Guest
ralph

One nation, one flag. Rather than be divisive, let’s unite under red, white, & blue.

Borgbike
Guest

I read this and think about the giant boulders that are stacked in the vacant land next to the freeway on-ramps around downtown Portland. How insanely expensive was that? There was some mean-spirited and politically-motivated thinking in this decision. There may be a common thread here.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

ODOT follows state policy [Department of Administrative Services policy 107-011-160] requiring ‘principal public buildings’ to fly the United States flag, the Oregon state flag and the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag OR the U.S. and state flag if it’s not possible to fly all three.

I just happened to be up there. They didn’t seem to have room for the State or MIA flags, only the thin blue line one.

…While we recognize this particular flag was originally intended to demonstrate support for our law enforcement community…

This gaslighting is insulting — they need to be called out on it.

If it’s really about support for law enforcement, they need to explain why this was flown at an ODOT facility and why you’ll never see it flying at a police station. And why it is being flown now of all times. This is not entirely unlike flying a swastika and claiming it’s a holy Hindu symbol.

During the attack on the US Capitol, these flags were conspicuously flying among those who savagely beat an officer to death and injured more than 50 others, some seriously. Given the racket the thin blue line crowd made about vandalism in Portland that never resulted in so much harm to law enforcement, the complete silence among them in response to the Capitol attack was deafening.

They should explain why they decided to show their support for law enforcement now in this manner.

ac
Guest
ac

My perception of the thin blue line flag has always been that it was a defensive reaction to the sudden microscope pointed at police treatment of POC. It was aimed at supporting police and always seemed to have a racist intent insofar as it intentionally ignored the very real criticism leveled against (not the entire police force but) the bad actors who were consistently protected after mistreatment of citizens of color.
To many, the blue line just means “protect our own”, which is what they see after many bad actor police get protected and shuffled off to another district unpunished.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

FWIW, ODOT returned my call within hours and left a polite and friendly message. I wasn’t available at the time, but they invited me to talk with them tomorrow suggesting some times.

I believe it was an isolated incident, but it’s ludicrous to suggest this wasn’t intentional on the part of those involved, so it needs to be treated as the unprofessional betrayal of public trust that it is.

I am hoping to learn tomorrow that there will be followup beyond simply removing the flag.

Merlin
Guest
Merlin

It’s always refreshing to read comments on issues totally unrelated to bicycling on the bikeportland.org site. NOT!