Thin Blue Line Flag Sparks Debate in Brea


Isabella Abalos

A Thin Blue Line flag towers above Downtown Brea. The flag, purchased by Brea resident and developer Dwight Manley (’84), sparked a debate in the community about the flag’s connotations.

A large Thin Blue Line flag was raised in the center of Downtown Brea on Sept. 17, stirring debate in the Brea community.

Brea resident and developer Dwight Manley (‘84) installed the flag atop the empty Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor at the corner of Birch Street and Brea Blvd. as a “respectful” way to honor two Sheriff’s deputies that were shot in Compton on Sept. 15, and as a tribute to the Brea police department, Manley said in an interview with the Wildcat.  

“We are blessed to have a great department in Brea,” Manley continued. “They went to work everyday on our behalf during the worst weeks of COVID.”

But some Brea residents, like Haylie Kent, junior, thought the raising of the flag was “extremely disrespectful” due to the flag’s “hateful” connotations. Kent noted that the flag was planted “in the same spot where a protest for equality took place,” a reference to a Black Lives Matter rally held in Downtown Brea on June 2. 

Gracie Jean Wilson (‘20) believes that the flag is a negative representation of Brea: “The Black Lives Matter protest that was held near where the flag is was peaceful. It seemed as if marginalized voices were finally being heard, but [the Thin Blue Line] flag is a huge step backward.”

Other Brea residents, like Crepes De Paris employee Karel Camacho, thinks the flag “shows that Brea is a community that cares about” its police department, and that Brea is “a strong community.”

Sophomore Keely Hunt asked, “Since when did it become a problem to honor the people who risk their lives daily for the people?”

The source of the controversy — the Thin Blue Line flag — was created in 2014 by college student Andrew Jacob, who wanted to “give the police a flag to wave,” according to Harper’s Magazine. In an interview with The Marshall Project, Jacob said, “The flag has no association with racism, hatred, bigotry. It’s a flag to show support for law enforcement.”

The Thin Blue Line flag’s creator, Andrew Jacob, explained that “the black above [the blue line] represents citizens, and the black below represents criminals.” The blue line represents police standing “between chaos and order,” Jacob said, in an interview in Harper’s Magazine. (Charlize Chiang)

Yet when the flag began to appear “among the Confederate flags toted by the white supremacists and neo-Nazis during the violent protests,” at Charlottesville, Va. in 2017, the flag became a political “symbol of racism” and a “counterforce to Black Lives Matter,”  according to USA Today

Supporters of BLM believe that the flag “connotes opposition to ending police brutality and systemic racism,” according to NPR, while supporters of Blue Lives Matter believe the flag to be “a line between law and order [and a] show of police pride and solidarity.” 

Attention to the Downtown Brea flag-raising was amplified when the @brea.downtown Instagram account posted a video of the flag, with the words “#breastrong” and “Brea Downtown Supports Law Enforcment,” on Sept. 17. The post generated over 17,900 views and 4,750 comments in five days.

The comments are split between supporters of Black Lives Matter, who claim the flag “is belittling to [BLM], a cause worth backing up,” according to Elaine Ahn, junior, and supporters of Blue Lives Matter, like Nate Melendez, junior, who believe that the flag shows “respect to the cops in this town.”

Unfortunately, some are using this as a wedge to force people to ‘choose sides,’” Manley acknowledged.

Some of the comments on Instagram either attacked or applauded the city’s role in the flag’s presence; however, because the Downtown Brea property is privately owned, the City of Brea has no say on what is put up, or taken down, in the area. “We are not the agency that put the flag up,” Heidi Gallegos, President of the Brea Chamber of Commerce, said.

“The property owner has a First Amendment right” to raise the symbol, Marty Simonoff, mayor of Brea, said, “and the City cannot restrict anyone from displaying a flag based on the content or viewpoint that is expressed.”

In a poll on the Wildcat website that asked “What is your stance on the raising of the flag?”, the 208 voters are almost evenly split between approval (40%) and disapproval (37%) of the flag, reflecting the community’s divide on the issue. (14% voted “don’t care” and 9% are “conflicted.”)

In response to those Brea residents who oppose the Thin Blue Line flag’s highly visible location in the city’s center, like sophomore Gabrielle Smith, who believes “that flag is a daily reminder” of oppression, Manley said, “Respecting [the police department] in no way takes away from any other person or cause. I’m happy to fly their BLM flag on the other downtown flagpole if they want to purchase it.”

On Sept. 17, a private citizen erected a Thin Blue Line flag atop the Farrell's building in Downtown Brea. What is your stance on the raising of the flag?

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