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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https://twitter.com/design__hole/status/1355600073363603456

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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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.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

It violates the flag code, and absolutely should not be flying at a government facility. Even if you remove all the baggage surrounding the flag, it just shouldn’t be flown, per the flag code.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Why do people who get paid salaries and benefits and are not forced labor need flags and pats on the back for doing the job they are getting paid for?
Do you fly flags for teachers, nurses, garbage collectors?
The local police force would not need flag flyers to make them feel better if they just did the job they are paid to do and did it the best they can….

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

Teachers and nurses routinely fly their union flags. Now, garbage collectors, maybe not.

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

Although I find equating the racist thin blue line flag with a teacher’s union flag to be offensive, I have also never seen a teacher’s union flag flying on a flagpole at a school.

SERider
Guest
SERider

I have two former public school teachers for parents. I can’t say I’ve EVER seen a teachers union flag and wouldn’t even know what one looks like.
This is a complete red herring.

Jack Botkin
Guest
Jack Botkin

Too bad. If cops weren’t such fascists and didn’t actively enjoy murdering and assaulting the population, maybe they wouldn’t be viewed as ‘negative’. Next!

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

Jack, I think that comment is inflammatory, false and not going to be helpful in having a rewarding discussion.

Torridjoe
Guest
Torridjoe

It may be inflammatory but it’s not afactually inaccurate. Dozens if not hundreds of LEO participated in a violently seditious coup attempt a month ago, so where’s the lie?

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

I know there will be severe consequences for any officer that was involved in illegal activity in DC which is very appropriate. It is also clear though that 3 officers died (1 was killed by the mob and 2 by suicide) and 140 police officers were injured DEFENDING our Capitol against the violent insurrection. What would have happened if they hadn’t been there for us? I shudder to think.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/second-officer-capitol-riot-dies-suicide-police-chief-says-n1256003

jered l bogli
Guest
jered l bogli

weird, I think this comment sums up the problem. if cops managed to eliminate all their “bad apples” there wouldn’t be a problem. There is a good Chris Rock sketch on this…

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Aww, poor folks. Sure, they get paid six figures to do nothing, but how can they get by without boot-licking support and adoration from the public?

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

I don’t think the antagonistic approach toward law enforcement is going to be beneficial for any of us. Denigrating all law enforcement officers is not a way to make the system better. cmh89, maybe you should challenge your assumptions and check out the new Portland non-profit (www.facetofacepdx.org). It is striving to improve community and PPB relations. You could volunteer to be a liaison family. Meeting and developing a relationship with a cop might help you to understand what they do for the community.

https://www.facetofacepdx.org

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I’ve known/know plenty of cops in my lifetime. I’ve actually worked with cops as peers. Feel good copaganda isn’t going to change my mind when I’ve seen PPB act with extreme hatred and violence towards the people that live in my community. There is a reason 80% supported the trump crime family.

Torridjoe
Guest
Torridjoe

If LEO didn’t represent white supremacy in action and weren’t being used by LEO to demonstrate their active disdain for Black people, maybe it wouldn’t come up as a n issue.

qqq
Guest
qqq

“Too bad. Another example of lack of support for law enforcement.”

No, that’s irrelevant. People support all kinds of groups, but understand that doesn’t mean there should be a flag for them flying on any public building.

dan
Guest
dan

“for most of the public”? I’m not so sure about that, sources required.

Phil M
Guest
Phil M

The Black Lives Matter flag should not be flown anywhere public either.

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!

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

You should take some time to research the concept of the “thin blue line”. The fact that the police like that symbology is disturbing and demonstrate that they view the people around them as being different than themselves. It’s the reason so many of them see themselves as both judge and jury when they decide to beat up someone in handcuffs or pepper spray a restrained 9 year old girl.

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

cmh89,
My understanding of the “thin blue line” is that it is what separates civil society from chaos. It’s not a line separating good people from bad people. Obviously, there are bad cops (just like there are bad members of any profession) but I disagree that “many of them” see themselves as judge and jury.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thin_blue_line

The “thin blue line” is a term that typically refers to the concept of the police as the line which keeps society from descending into violent chaos. The “blue” in “thin blue line” refers to the blue color of the uniforms of many police departments.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

I think that many of the anti-cop posters here would prefer chaos, or at least, minimal law-enforcement. There are those that think that the human species has the ability to control its anti-social behavior. Unfortunately, you just need to look at the news to see that is a pipe dream. And, we actually live in one of the least anti-social societies on the planet. Try moving to South America, or Africa, or the Slavic states or or

qqq
Guest
qqq

I’m having a hard time following the logic of your posts. You seem to support following laws and rules, but at the same time seem displeased that ODOT chose to follow state policy and removed this flag.

In this case, allowing the flag to remain would be an example of the “chaos, or at least, minimal law-enforcement” that you criticize.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

ODOT does not need a flag related to police, I agree. My main point is about the general anti-cop attitude in Portland and this discussion group.

SERider
Guest
SERider

You seem to see everything very black/white (“pro-cop”, “anti-cop”). Most people are pro “good” cops, and want to see the police reformed to get the highest percentage possible of “good” cops. Many officers you talk to are interested in the idea of taking away some of the responsibilities they know they are either unequiped/untrained for. They know they’re asked to do to much (often because of budget cuts in other civil services).

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Right, which means they view society as chaotic and hostile. If you view the community as chaos and violence that you alone are holding back, how you could possibly be an asset to a community? They see us as a problem that they need to keep in check. That’s disgusting.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

You might want to do a ride along with a cop sometime and see just how much chaos and hostility they deal with on a daily basis. It would be hard to not get jaded about humanity.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

“Why don’t you do a ride along” is such a lame thought.

1. I’ve done ride alongs, known and know cops in my professional and personal life and worked with cops as peers. This isn’t an issue of not being familiar with LEOs

2. A ride along is such a surface level event, it’s meaningless. Systemic racism is structural. Hanging out with a cop for a few hours tells you nothing about the systemic racism with the criminal justice system or even those cops actual views. Anyone can be good for a little bit.

I work in the public sector. You want to see hostility? Go to the local DHS office. They face hostility and they manage not to kill people

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.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

How does “civil society” deal with people who, for example, deliberately run down bicyclists with their pickup trucks?

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

Seems like a poor example for the point you are trying to make since in the recent case of someone deliberately running people over with a Honda Element the cops were unable or unwilling to stop the guy for 1-2 hours until eventually he was surrounded and contained by private citizens. Then when the job had largely been done for them some cops finally came and transported the guy to jail.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I was referring to the pickup truck story where a driver chased a cyclist into a parking lot and rammed him.

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

Have the cops done anything about that incident because that one also doesn’t seem to be an example of effective policework either.

Evan
Guest
Evan

you’re implying that only the police can solve crimes but you already know from the comments on that post that the truck’s license plate is clearly visible in the video, so it sounds like any empowered investigator could establish probable cause and find the registered owner of that truck, then work to verify who was driving at the time. but it doesn’t sound like the police have done any of that, so I’m not sure what else your point might be. nobody said “don’t investigate vehicular assault”

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I’m not sure I follow. Are you suggesting that we should all hire our own investigators when we are the victims of the crime? I am sure you are aware of the very long history of bad things happening when private citizens take the law into their own hands. It seems that any civilized society needs a police force, and I interpreted the comment I was responding to as claiming we don’t.

If we don’t need police, my question is how do we handle situations where people criminally victimize one another? If we are all in agreement that we do need a police force (whether or not our current police force needs reform, which is a separate issue), then my comment is moot.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

I actually think that is probably the course with the most likelihood of success most of the time. Non-violent crimes get solved at a rate well below 20%. Even minor violent crimes rarely result in ‘justice’. I think that I have reported maybe 15 crimes against me, all but three being property crimes. One was actually ‘solved’ by the criminal justice system, the theft of one of my bicycles. And, it was damaged almost 50% of the value of the bike, and the perp never served one minute of jail time. Probation only. It is a sad reality that if you truly want ‘justice’ 99% of the time you will only get it if you take matters into your own hands. Not that I am advocating that, because it frequently backfires.

Opus the Poet
Guest

Speaking as someone who was deliberately hit from behind by a person driving a pickup truck, this is a very violent crime, akin to getting shot repeatedly at short range. It’s about as far from non-violent as you can get. Even the slight injuries suffered by the delivery rider have counterparts to getting shot where 81% of victims who get hit have varying degrees of incapacitation in spite of not you know, dying. And when it comes to gun crimes, you don’t have to get hit for getting shot at to be considered assault with a deadly weapon or even attempted murder. Vehicular assault usually requires serious injury or more to get charges filed.

Evan
Guest
Evan

one simple idea: the government should hire a team of people with the legal authority to demand evidence and testimony, call them the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, then take all the police case files and start solving crimes

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

That sounds exactly like what we have, except that the investigators (i.e. detectives) are organizationally part of the police department. There may be a good reason to have them in the same organization, but if not, then splitting them apart seems fine. What problem does that solve?

Evan
Guest
Evan

the problem of the police not solving crimes, not responding to 911 calls, not investigating sexual predators, &c

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Of course, taken literally this is not true. So what you’re really saying is that the police are not performing to the level which you expect them to.

That leads us to ask what is reasonable to expect under the present circumstances, and are the police meeting that standard or falling short? That is not a question that can be answered using anecdote, and is not one that I feel equipped to answer.

But it might be useful to think about what a reasonable standard might look like, and perhaps how other police departments have performed to get a sense of what is reasonable to expect. That performance standard might also be useful when thinking about alternatives to conventional policing and trying to figure out if those can accomplish what we want them to.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

Hire 50 more detectives for PPB and you would have your wish. The problem isn’t that detectives don’t want to, and try, to solve crimes, it is that ‘proving guilt’ is a painstaking, slow process, very inefficient in today’s environment, and detectives can only solve a very few cases. Most of them would love to solve all the shooting cases in Portland the past year, but are hamstrung by cultural pushback and lack of evidence.

dwk
Guest
dwk

What exactly did the police department do?
Your whataboutism is so tiring.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

It’s not at all whataboutism. If the claim is that “civil society” can handle the problem, I’m asking how. That kind of gets to the core of it, don’t you think?

Jason Skelton
Guest
Jason Skelton

I will assume you write in good faith. The point is police do not create a civil society. Police enforce property rights and other laws that are created by government so it is not to say LE should not exist. But it is too much to say that without LE we would be living in a lawless dystopia–chaos. Myanmar, Haiti or Russia, to choose 3, do not have problems due to a lack of LE.

In 2003 after the US invasion, the US sent in police trainers for Baghdad. It didn’t prevent chaos.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Are you really holding up Russia as an example of a state without law enforcement?

dan
Guest
dan

Jason is pointing out that Myanmar, Haiti, and Russia have lots (and lots) of LE and yet have not achieved what most in the West would consider a civil society. So maybe LE is not the cure-all that some would have us believe.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I definitely don’t consider police to be a panacea, but I do believe they are necessary for when every other societal safeguard has failed.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

LE in those countries is corrupt, so it is actually not LE as we know it. If they had the level of law enforcement that we have in this country (despite what many in this forum think about LE), the citizenry might have a chance at a good life.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Corruption exists in every country, including America. Corruption among LE personnel in the US is a huge problem.

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?

qqq
Guest
qqq

I agree. Signed, commenter formerly known as q.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

You can still wear them because they are not a symbol of hate for you. Is the problem that other people might harass you for wearing them because they are making assumptions?

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.

SERider
Guest
SERider

Agreed.
It has gone hand in hand with the reactive “Police Lives Matter” argument to BLM. It’s arguing in bad faith as very few people in society are arguing that police lives don’t matter. I think the vast majority of the public wants officers to be safe, but also that most of us don’t think that gives them license to do whatever they want “in the line of duty”.

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.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I am pleased to report they are taking the incident seriously, specifically acknowledging that the flag has become a white supremacist symbol and that this incident is a symptom of much deeper problems.

We had a productive conversation via phone and email and they convinced me they are committed to change. ODOT is a big ship, so that won’t be fast. However they are trying to right thing.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I predict you will hear:

“Thank you, Mr. Banerjee, for your comments. Oregon state personnel policy does not allow us to disclose to any third party the results of personnel investigations.”

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

In all honesty, my expectations in the specific area were tempered. Flying that is a symptom of a greater cultural problem that damages everyone (including ODOT employees) that needs more than dropping the hammer on a few boneheads to move things forward.

The flag is a serious issue. Beyond the inappropriateness and betrayal of public trust, anyone who doesn’t think it’s a deliberate form of intimidation that makes normal people afraid to do the right thing is kidding themselves.

A real win isn’t about dropping the hammer on a few boneheads and forcing compliance from a few more. It’s about getting people in a place where they don’t want to do things like that in first place, take their responsibilities seriously, and people feel inclined/empowered to do the right thing as that will do much more to keep things moving in the right direction.

ODOT is a big ship and real cultural change comes slowly, but they are in the process of implementing (this predates the incident) measures to shift the consciousness closer to where it needs to be. They know they have a long way to go, and told me so.

I’d encourage you to call them yourself. They were quite generous with their time with me and invited me to call or follow up if I had additional thoughts.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I predict you will hear:

“Thank you, Mr. Banerjee, for your comments. Oregon state personnel policy does not allow us to disclose to any third party the results of personnel investigations.”

That’s exactly what we should hear.

Merlin
Guest
Merlin

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