Minn. PD replacing 'thin blue line' decals after community requests
Chief Jim Hughes says the new design will "represent the reason we had the blue line flag on our squad to begin with"
By Jenny Berg
SARTELL, Minn. — The city of Sartell plans to remove "Thin Blue Line" flag insignia from city property after receiving requests from residents and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.
Sartell Police Chief Jim Hughes shared a message Tuesday on the city's police department Facebook page that says the city is removing the decals and designing a new decal "to represent the reason we had the blue line flag on our squad to begin with — to remember the officers that have given their lives in the line of duty."
The city's squad cars display "Thin Blue Line" flag decals, which have become controversial after a version of the flag was carried at the "Unite the Right" rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., and at the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The city is also removing a flag from the city's public safety facility, which houses the police department.
Sartell resident Hannah Kosloski, 22, first e-mailed city leaders about the flag in the spring. At the time, officials told Kosloski the decals represent the courage and sacrifice displayed by officers while they keep the community safe.
Kosloski, who used they/them pronouns, argued the meaning had been co-opted by a fringe political movement and will actively alienate community members of color. Kosloski created an online petition asking the decals be removed. It garnered more than 600 signatures but Kosloski faced backlash and threats through social media, including a counterpetition calling Kosloski "some moron [who] decided to start a petition." The counterpetition has more than 2,145 signatures.
Other cities and agencies have dealt with controversy over the "Thin Blue Line" flag in recent months. In January, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's police chief banned officers from using the flag's imagery while on duty. In May, Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse apologized after flying the flag in recognition of National Police Week after members of an anti-racist coalition and other organizations complained.
After being contacted by Kosloski, the Minnesota branch of the ACLU sent Hughes a letter asking the city to remove decals and "Thin Blue Line" flag, stating it "has become a divisive symbol that is offensive to many members of the community and contrary to your office's mission to provide a 'community-oriented police department.' "
New census data released in August shows 11% of Sartell residents are nonwhite. The ACLU letter, written by staff attorney Clare Diegel on Sept. 3, says the city's decision to fly the "Thin Blue Line" flag and display it on squad cars "risks alienating these residents and jeopardizing your efforts to keep people safe and built trust with the community."
"At a time when the relationship between law enforcement and people of color is strained everywhere," the letter continues, "displaying such a divisive symbol sends the wrong message."
In a written statement Tuesday, Diegel said she applauds the city's decision and said the gesture "sends the message that all residents and visitors are welcome in Sartell."
Kosloski said Tuesday they are grateful for ACLU-MN's support and glad the community is taking steps — albeit small steps — toward positive, inclusive and community-oriented change.
"I never thought this situation would amount to this much," they said. "I honestly was hoping this could have been resolved with an e-mail, but regardless, I'm glad the city of Sartell stepped up and chose to follow their mission statement to uphold and support all people in our community."
Sartell Mayor Ryan Fitzthum declined to comment but directed the Star Tribune to his public Facebook page where he shared the police department's post with the message, "It's about putting our community first while honoring our heroes. I respect and support the decision that was made."
In his Facebook post, Hughes shared a concept design for a new logo with a blue line and the phrase, "Remembering our fallen; In valor there is hope."
"There will be no confusion about that or what it stands for and we will display that with pride," Hughes wrote. "We want our community to feel safe to come to our building to report a crime, register for permits, get advice and guidance from a police officer or even use the Safe Room to escape an abuser they are fleeing, and this is the best course of action to keep this intact."
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