Illinois town says police officers can no longer use ‘Thin Blue Line’ masks

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NILES, Ill. (WGN) — The Village of Niles will no longer allow Niles Police Department officers to use masks with the “Thin Blue Line” symbol.

The Thin Blue Line flag is seen by many police officers as a sign of respect, but by others as a symbol of racism. The question in Niles was, “Is it appropriate for officers to wear it while in uniform?’”

When members of the Niles Police Department started wearing masks with this symbol and the department proudly posted pictures on social media showing officers displaying them while in uniform. That led some in the community to ask, what’s behind the mask? 

For police, it’s a symbol of solidarity, for others it’s an assertion of white supremacy.  

“The thin blue line symbol is associated with white nationalism and racism,” a spokesperson for the Northwest Side Coalition Against Racism and Hate, said.

For a diverse group of residents known as the Northwest Side Coalition Against Racism and Hate, the masks were a sign of a bigger problem.

“This has nothing to do with fallen officers, it was just an excuse to let them use the symbol,” the spokesperson, who asked not to be identified due to safety concerns, said.

They wrote an open letter to the village detailing the fraught history of the symbol, which has been co-opted by the alt-right.  

Since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, police departments have been the focal point in the fight for racial justice.  

As Black Lives Matter protesters have taken to the streets, the counter movement “Blue Lives Matter” has used the Thin Blue Line flag as an emblem. 

The Niles police chief, Luis Tigera, was quoted in the local publication Journal and Topics as saying: “There is a difference between Blue Lives Matter and the Thin Blue Line. It’s disingenuous calling me a racist.  How can you call me a minority, a racist without knowing me? I’m offended by that as a Hispanic. As a command officer, I will not tolerate any racism in this agency.” 

But after months of silence on the concerns of the Thin Blue Line, the village decided to ban the use of the masks by the Niles Police Department. Village officials refused our requests for an interview.

“Thanks for reaching out to us and for the opportunity to comment. The village is grateful, but cannot participate in the interview,” the village said in a short statement.

The Thin Blue Line flag has become symbolic of the country’s divisions.  

Niles resident, Vic Shaw, said the symbol has a specific meaning to black people.  

“I think they should ban them from wearing them,” he said. “They are supposed to protect and serve. It’s not about them, it’s about the community they protect and serve that means everyone, not just themselves.”

But other residents call the mask ban an example of “PC culture” run amok.  

“No, it is not racist. To me, the football players kneeling, and disrespecting our flag and country is racist. The police officers can have a Thin Blue Line, I support them 100%,” Celeste Smith, a Niles resident said,

Now, officers are wearing department-issued masks that simply read NPD.  

“We’re happy to see that masks are gone. It mitigates the harm to the community, but it also goes and shows the systemic racism in the community that needed to be addressed,” the spokesperson for the anti-hate group said.

In July, the Niles Police Department lost three members of the force. They were members of the Chicago chapter of the Thin Blue Line motorcycle club and were hit by a suspected drunk driver on a Texas highway.   

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