How often do you look at the banner image at the top of a Twitter page? Probably not that often, but that top image may be the source of a big headache for the Guelph Police Service. An image of a “Blue Lives Matter” flag had, until today, appeared at the top of a Guelph Police Twitter account, and though it’s now gone, there’s still a concern about who is responsible, and if they understood that the symbol has more than one meaning.
An image was posted on the “Overheard at Guelph” Facebook page Monday night featuring a screen grab of the Guelph Police Drug Unit Twitter page. The banner image featured the Canadian version of the “Blue Lives Matter” flag, which is a black and white version of the Canadian flag with a solid blue stripe drawn horizontally across the centre.
The image is controversial to say the least, and its appearance on an official Twitter page of the Guelph Police Service was concerning to many members of the Facebook group. On Tuesday morning, the image was still there, but by the noon hour the “Blue Lives Matter” flag had been replaced with a more generic image of the Guelph skyline.
Guelph Police media relations officer Scott Tracey said the Drug Unit Twitter feed is controlled by the Drug Unit just like how the Traffic Services page is controlled by Traffic Services. Tracey added that he was made aware of the banner image by a Twitter user posting to the main Guelph Police feed @GuelphPolice, which is the Twitter feed he uses as the media officer to update the public about Guelph Police activities.
Guelph Politico asked about the change over of the banner images, and who at the Guelph Police Service was responsible for its placement, but received only an official statement.
“Having become aware of concerns expressed, the @GPS_Drugs Twitter account has changed its banner photo,” Tracey said. “In Canadian policing, the thin blue line logo serves as a recognition of the service and sacrifice made by police officers for their communities.
“We recognize that the meaning of this logo can be interpreted differently by different people and for that reason the banner has been changed,” Tracey added.
Aside from the banner image at the top of the page, the Drug Unit Twitter feed has not been updated since January 22. It’s unknown how long the “Blue Lives Matter” image has been used on the Drug Unit Twitter page.
Last fall, the RCMP sent a memo to officers that asked them to no longer wear the symbol while on duty, or while in uniform, and instead advised them to use a more discreet blue ribbon to honour fallen officers. The National Police Federation reacted to the memo by telling its 20,000 members that they had ordered patches with the symbol for all frontline officers.
There has been no formal statement of policy concerning the “Blue Lives Matter” symbol from the Guelph Police Service, but Chief Gord Cobey was asked about it last summer at a town hall with the Ward 2 city councillors. Cobey said that he wasn’t sure what the symbol was, or what it meant, but Staff Sgt. Kevin King, who was also taking part in the town hall, said that it was merely a way to show pride in the service.
Guelph Politico asked if there has since been any learnings or research about the use of the “Blue Lives Matter” flag by the service, but did not get a response.
Tracey also told Guelph Politico in a brief phone conversation that he was not aware who posted the original “Blue Lives Matter” banner image, or who changed it on Tuesday.
Although some in law enforcement see it as a symbol of solidarity and a way to honour fellow officers killed in the line of duty, many community activists and civil rights groups have come to consider the symbol as divisive, and promoting an “us versus them” mentality between police and members of the public critical of police action and tactics.
“It’s an ideology that imagines the world as this violent, chaotic place, were it not for the police, and that sets a mindset around crime and a certain mindset of particularly who is on the other side of that blue line, which traditionally have been Black people and Indigenous people and people who are outside the middle class, white ideal of public safety,” Halifax professor and activist El Jones told Global News last fall.
The flag has also been co-opted by hate groups, especially since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Members of the New Jersey Correction Service who were taking part in a “Blue Lives Matter” demonstration last summer were penalized for re-enacting Floyd’s fatal detainment under the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin, who is presently on trail for the murder of Floyd.
“It’s not infrequent for us to see ‘thin blue line’ or ‘back the blue’ kind of content on social media pages used by hate groups,” Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network told the Star.
“Blue Lives Matter” started as a solidarity movement in response to the murder of two New York police officers in 2014. The man who killed the two officers wrote an Instagram post hours before the murders saying that it was his intention to kill police members in retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, two Black men killed while in police custody. The Black Lives Matter movement began in the summer of 2014 after the officers involved in both cases were not prosecuted.
Last week, Guelph Police announced the they were launching a program creating liaison officers for under-represented communities in Guelph. Staff Sgt. Carrie Gale bought the idea to senior officer last year to create positions that would foster better relations between the service and people in Guelph that identify as Black, Indigenous, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and LGBTQ+.