A photo of Police Officer Natalie Corona, clad in a royal blue dress and waving a Thin Blue Line flag, has flooded social media as a symbol of the 22-year-old’s deep love of police work before she was gunned down in Davis on Thursday night.
A UC Davis student government branch, though, saw it differently. The university’s Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission criticized the picture and Corona’s flag in particular, calling it “triggering” and “blatantly anti-Black” in a now-deleted Facebook post.
“Flashing lights, sirens, and increased police presence can be triggering to many Black and Brown people,” the post read. “In addition, there has been the circulation of an image of the police officer with the Blue Lives Matter flag. We would like to directly address that this flag represents an attempt by law enforcement to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement. ‘Blue Lives Matter’ was... an effort to evade accountability and critical awareness of police treatment of communities of color.”
The Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission deleted its post after ASUCD student body president Michael Gofman condemned it Friday night on Facebook. Gofman described the ECAC’s post as “disgusting” and urged the commission to take it down and issue an apology.
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“Its (sic) easy to sit on the third floor of the Memorial Union when there are at least 100 brave men and women in blue between you and the shooter. It is easy to argue hypotheticals, politics, and ideology when you’re in safety,” Gofman wrote. “I am ashamed that some of these same people, protected by the very officers that they are condemning, have the audacity to politicize the loss of a young officer. (H)er only crime was being a police officer.”
The ECAC’s web page describes it as a branch that recommends policies and programs for minority groups at UC Davis. It was named UC Davis’ commission of the year in 2018. The ECAC previously boycotted Gofman’s annual State of the Association address, calling him “racist,” “divisive” and “not trustworthy,” UC Davis student newspaper The California Aggie reported.
UC Davis responded to a torrent of angry commenters on Twitter Sunday morning, saying that student groups do not speak for the university and urging unity among Davis residents.
“Now is the time to put aside our differences and focus on the life lost and come together,” the university’s post said. “There will be time afterward to reflect on how we recover from this horrific incident. Officer Corona remains foremost in our minds as someone who paid the ultimate price for protecting and serving our community.”
The black-and-white flag with a thin blue stripe originated as a patch until the Michigan-based company Thin Blue Line USA turned it into a 3-foot by 5-foot flag in 2014. The symbol’s true origin was the “thin red line,” in reference to a historic British Army battle formation, according to the company’s news director Kelleigh Lamb. The blue line is meant to represent the men and women of law enforcement who hold the divide between order and chaos, according to Thin Blue Line USA’s official video about the flag. The flag is not political, according to the company.
“It symbolizes positive awareness for law enforcement, and to show support for our officers,” Lamb said.
Thin Blue Line USA released a statement after alt-right protestors in Charlottesville, Va., waved the flag during the “Unite The Right” march in August 2017. It was pictured next to Confederate flags and white supremacist emblems before a neo-Nazi fatally rammed counter-protestor Heather Heyer with his car.
“We reject in the strongest possible terms any association of our flag with racism, hatred, and bigotry. To use it in such a way tarnishes everything it and our nation stands for,” the statement read.
Some groups are unlikely to believe the flag isn’t political, however. The Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter responded to the UC Davis controversy with a blog post Sunday that questioned why Corona was being regarded as a hero and highlighted shootings by police officers in recent years, none of which involved the Davis Police Department.
Blog post author Trina Allen called Blue Lives Matter “repackaged Nazi propaganda” in her writing and said the organization had hijacked Black Lives Matter’s name out of reactionary fright. She called on people to focus their thoughts on 19-year-old Darell Richards, who was fatally shot by Sacramento police in September while brandishing a pellet gun during a mental health crisis.
“Blue is the color of a uniform, not a person. Blue is a choice, not forcible oppression,” Allen’s post begins. “Blue is a job, and the phrase ‘blue lives matter’ is simply a racist, reactionary clapback to the very real human rights struggle of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The Davis City Council has intentionally avoided using the flag in social posts following Corona’s death, according to Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida. While there wasn’t an official decision or a vote, council members are trying to be careful when dealing with vulnerable groups in general, Partida said.
Partida, who has not spoken with the ECAC, said its timing was off.
“I feel it’s an extremely important conversation to have, but it should be done after we have gone through services and paid respects and acknowledged the tragedy that has happened in our community,” she said. “And I know that people who are feeling that this imagery is insulting have felt like they’ve waited long enough for changes to come in their particular communities.”