As criticism swirled around law enforcement in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota — following yet another extrajudicial killing by police — the department was also spotted mounting a flag outside its offices commonly associated with far-right propaganda.
Reporter Andrew Mannix of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune posted video of the “thin blue line” flag on the pole outside the police station on April 12 2021, alongside the U.S. flag:
A second user, Kendall Killian, separately posted a photograph of the two flags:
The flag itself is based on the description of law enforcement officers as the “thin blue line” between “law and order and social and civil anarchy,” according to former Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Parker and adapted by other police-related groups. Non-profit news group The Marshall Project reported that the flag began to be marketed in 2014 by Andrew Jacob to show support to police.
Jacob told the Marshall Project that the flag was not a response to the Black Lives Matter movement for social justice, but that he may have seen the symbol being displayed in opposition to that movement.
Variations of the “thin blue line” symbol have also proliferated online and in public; in October 2020, for example, one version of the flag where the line is placed in the middle of a black-and-white U.S. flag was mounted at a rally for then-President Donald Trump in place of the traditional “stars and stripes”:
The Marshall Project also noted that at least one police department — San Francisco — barred its officers from using the symbol on protective facemasks in May 2020:
San Francisco’s chief of police Bill Scott banned his officers from wearing face masks emblazoned with the thin blue line flag, worrying they would be seen as “divisive and disrespectful.” The masks had been distributed by the local police union, which accused the department of failing to provide masks. “We did it as a morale booster for each other,” union president Tony Montoya said, “not as a political statement.”
In January 2021, the police department for the University of Wisconsin-Madison was barred from displaying the “blue line” American flag by Chief Kristen Roman, who also blamed people with “hateful ideologies” for co-opting the symbol, though she added that she did not consider it racist in and of itself.
The images of the flag in Brooklyn Center were captured after a press conference by local Police Chief Tim Gannon concerning the extrajudicial killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center a day earlier. The officer who killed him was later identified as Kim Potter, a nearly 25-year veteran of the department and “president of the Brooklyn Center Police Officer’s Association” according to KSTP-TV.
“It is my belief that the officer had their intention to deploy [her] Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon told reporters. “This appears to me, from what I viewed, and the officer’s reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in a tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
The fatal shooting took place amid the trial of another Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department, for his role in the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd in May 2020.
Mannix also reported that both his outlet — the largest newspaper in the state — and Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) were not allowed into the press conference. The Star-Tribune added that a third news organization, the independent Minnesota Reformer, was also denied entry.
“When a reporter asked for an explanation, an employee for the police department, who refused to give his name, said they were at capacity, then closed blinds to the counter window and would not explain more,” the newspaper said.
Minnesota Public Radio spokesperson Kelly Reller confirmed the report in a statement to us:
Credentialed MPR News journalists were not granted access to today’s press conference in Brooklyn Center. Direct access to official information is critical to full and accurate reporting, so we are hopeful that future press conferences are made accessible to all credentialed journalists.
We contacted Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, who said on his own Twitter account that the city council had approved a motion giving his office command over the department.
“At such a tough time, this will streamline things and establish a chain of command and leadership,” he wrote. “I appreciate the other councilmembers who voted to approve this motion.”
We contacted the local mayor’s office and police department asking for comment on both the “thin blue line” flag and the apparent decision to ban the news outlets from Gannon’s press conference, but we have yet to hear back.
However, Elliott said in a press conference on April 13 2021 that “we’ve asked the flag to be removed.” He also announced that both Potter and Gannon resigned from their respective positions.
Update April 12 2021, 7:32 p.m. PST: This story has been updated to include the officer’s name.
Update April 13 2021, 11:01 a.m. PST: Updated to reflect the removal of the flag and resignations of both the officer and the local police chief.