“The Thin Blue Line.”

You see it everywhere these days. From minivans bumpers to a flag flying in a front yard, to shirts, hats, license plates, and even tattoos. There are people that use the Thin Blue Line as a backdrop to the mantra “Blue Lives Matter.” And recently, you may have even seen members of some alleged hate groups fly the flag as an “anti-Black Lives Matter” symbol. But what does the Thin Blue Line actually signify? Why is it so meaningful to a section of society? And, since an alleged racist organization used it in a rally should it now be deemed a racist symbol and banned from society?

As a police officer for the better part of the last decade, I stood as a small part of that Thin Blue Line (TBL). In some of my assignments, I was the sole Thin Blue Line present when incidents occurred. Once, I was seriously injured while performing my duties as a part of that line. At times, I felt the sheer weight of the symbology on my back and in others, I felt a true brotherhood. 

But, what led to this simple black space with a blue line in the center being a “thing” anyway? Let’s take a quick peek into the origins of the TBL. 

According to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit publication about Criminal Justice, the origins of the term “Thin Blue Line” are seen as far back as 1854 and it referred partially to a British battle formation. However, the term first became mainstream among police officers in New York City in 1922.

In the 1950s, there was a television show with the phrase as its title. The term was consistently used by politicians in speeches; it was used in the press, and in multiple novels of that era. Since then, the term has been used the world over by officers or people who wish to show them support. In 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was quoted as saying that police are, “The force between civilization and total chaos.” Hence, the Thin Blue Line.

Dallas Police Sergeant Stephen Bishopp holds a doctoral degree and has studied police stress, use of force, and officer misconduct. He asserts that the term symbolizes respect and understanding for families who have lost an officer in the line of duty. Bishopp said, “When I see that flag as a sticker on a car or flying in someone’s yard, I know that there is someone there that knows what I’m going through.”

But what does the symbol mean to an officer, a man or woman who is part of the line? Does it truly create an “us vs. them” mentality as I’ve heard some attempt to articulate or does it mean something different altogether?