I did not plan on getting pulled over on my way home from Sun Valley. I was in Sun Valley to present a panel discussion around diversity in outdoor spaces. The deputy found me allegedly going 34 mph in a 25 mph zone.
Due to COVID, the deputy who pulled me over had a buff on. At first, I was thankful since I’m trying to be cautious. But when he came closer to my car, my heart sank and I got scared. The deputy’s buff was black with an overlay of the American flag with a blue line on it.
I empathize that being in law enforcement can be dangerous. I also recognize that I will truly never understand the decisions that law enforcement officers have to make and see the need for a sense of community and solidarity, but the blue line isn’t it.
The blue line purpurates an “us vs. them” mentality. Why is law enforcement, which is supposed to protect all people in a community not distancing itself from a symbol that has been co-opted by white nationalists? For reference, this symbol was flown at the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally and more recently and locally at the July 21 counter protest in Boise. At this counter protest in Boise, imagery of signs stating, “BLM is killing blacks” and “Dislike America? Leave” show that this symbolism is divisive and a new narrative needs to be explored. In fact, municipalities such as San Francisco and Boise have banned this symbol due to its divisive nature.
This blue line was a subtle sign that I was not welcome in Sun Valley. As an educator, I understand that those who don’t have my job really don’t understand what it’s like to have 45 ninth-graders after P.E. in a classroom at the end of the day without air conditioning, so I empathize with the demands of a job that I will never truly understand. However, pro-education symbols don’t have the same effect on the life-and-death realities that black, indigenous and other people of color face when compared to the blue line. When thinking about how to increase their representation in outdoor spaces, let’s not forget the bigger systems and the symbols that come along with them.