In late October, directors in a suburban New York faculty district informed staff that a few of their attire was making college students really feel uncomfortable, and even threatened.
At difficulty had been masks exhibiting the so-called skinny blue line flag, which indicators help for the police however which has more and more been used to show opposition to the Black Lives Matter motion, which rose in opposition to racism in policing.
Wearing the image violated a district coverage prohibiting staff from expressing political speech, officers mentioned. The emblem, a black-and-white model of the American flag with a single blue stripe at its heart, might now not be worn by workers members.
Days later, a group of staff of the district, in Pelham, N.Y., appeared at work sporting shirts bearing the phrase “Vote” and the names of Black individuals who had been killed by the police, prompting accusations of hypocrisy and political bias.
The ensuing controversy has divided Pelham, an prosperous and largely white Westchester County city of about 12,000 individuals simply north of New York City.
The tense debate exemplifies the political tinderbox that a lot of the United States has turn out to be, the place an emblem on a masks or a patch on a sleeve can ignite a dispute that consumes a group.
At the middle of the battle is a image that has come to imply vastly various things to totally different individuals, a black, white and blue Rorschach check whose significance continues to shift amid a persevering with nationwide reckoning over racism and police violence.
“It made a lot of people upset here, obviously,” mentioned Ralph DeMasi, a faculty security coordinator who was informed to not put on the flag. “Clearly a directive was given. One side followed it, while another side was allowed to express their views.”
Facebook discussions have grown heated. Neighbors staked out clear positions and lined up within the chilly to talk at a public assembly. School staff and oldsters mentioned that they had gotten threatening messages because the district attracted nationwide media consideration.
“People are taking this hard line,” mentioned Solange Hansen, a Black and Latina lady who moved to Pelham final yr and whose teenage son is a scholar there. “All of a sudden, overnight, you see these blue line flags on people’s lawns. You see them in people’s businesses. And that makes it really hard for the people of color.”
On Friday night, The Pelham Examiner, a native information outlet, printed a letter written by a Pelham highschool senior, Nadine LeeSang, that expressed help for the district’s coverage and mentioned that the flag reminded college students of shade of “racist experiences they have had” with regulation enforcement.
“Nobody was really talking about how students felt uncomfortable, and it was kind of being dismissed,” Ms. LeeSang, 17, who’s Black and Asian, mentioned in an interview. Her letter was signed by 15 different individuals, most of them additionally college students.
The debate over the flag’s which means has performed out throughout the nation, notably after the widespread protests this summer time over police brutality and systemic racism.
An Ohio school district banned it after a soccer participant displayed it earlier than a recreation; a faculty in one other Ohio district suspended students for carrying it onto the sector. There had been opposing rallies in a Massachusetts town where officers ordered the flag faraway from fireplace vehicles.
Those who help the flag say it has lengthy been used to honor regulation enforcement officers who sacrificed their lives, and that it isn’t meant as a political assertion.
“It signifies a memorial, a connection between officers killed in the line of duty and those who continue with their duties in the present,” mentioned Carla Caccavale, a Pelham resident who has 4 youngsters enrolled in district faculties and whose father, a New York City Transit detective, was killed whereas attempting to cease a theft when Ms. Caccavale was an toddler.
Ms. Caccavale has made sweatshirts honoring her father’s reminiscence that embody a skinny blue line patch. Although she initially made them just for her household and one other household, she has begun to promote them to help police-related charities.
When faculty workers members had been informed they might now not put on the flag, her sweatshirts had been included within the ban. She mentioned the choice baffled her.
“You have to look at the intention of the sweatshirts,” she mentioned.
But supporters of the district’s ban on the flag mentioned the emblem couldn’t be divorced from its present context as a image for the pro-police Blue Lives Matter motion that sprang up in response to the Black Lives Matter motion.
The flag’s critics additionally say the picture has acquired a racist connotation after being carried at demonstrations by hate teams, most notably a Charlottesville, Va., rally in 2017, the place white nationalists staged a weekend of protests that turned violent.
“Now that you see this flag flown alongside this other flags and racist symbols, it’s very hard not to say, ‘Well, that’s a racist symbol,’” Annemarie Garcia, who has two youngsters enrolled in Pelham faculties, mentioned. “Even if that’s not what it meant to you originally.”
In latest months, the flag has turn out to be a extra widespread sight at pro-police demonstrations round New York and elsewhere. It hung prominently behind President Trump at a marketing campaign rally in Wisconsin, and the marketing campaign has sold merchandise bearing the image.
Mr. DeMasi, the Pelham faculty worker who was informed to not put on the flag, mentioned that he didn’t join it to white supremacists. But he acknowledged that it had turn out to be a political image.
“Obviously, you’ve seen caravans with the Trump flag in the back of pickup trucks and then the thin blue line,” Mr. DeMasi, a former police officer, mentioned. “I think maybe people had a good intention, but it ended up giving the meaning of the thin blue line a black eye.”
But the ban on Ms. Caccavale’s sweatshirts provoked a ferocious letter from the president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, a New York City police union, who accused Cheryl Champ, the district’s superintendent, of “perverting views” of scholars and turning them into “cop-haters.”
The letter touched off an onslaught of protection by native and nationwide media shops, together with Fox News, the place Ms. Caccavale has appeared twice.
Much of the protection has targeted on Ms. Caccavale and the varsity board’s coverage, to the frustration of some who mentioned they feared that the issues of nonwhite college students had been being ignored.
The faculty district wouldn’t present particulars in regards to the college students who had been concerned, together with the variety of complaints or the ages of those that had filed them.
Ms. Garcia, who volunteers for the district, mentioned she had heard a number of college students clarify their views in regards to the flag to workers members however she declined to supply particulars, citing privateness issues.
“You have adolescents who actually stood up and expressed their concern,” Ms. Garcia, who identifies as white and Hispanic, mentioned. “And these are not adolescents who look like the majority of the kids in Pelham.”
At a faculty board assembly on Wednesday, Dr. Champ mentioned that when she started to listen to complaints in regards to the flag, she researched it and concluded that it shouldn’t be worn. When she obtained complaints in regards to the shirts that mentioned “Vote,” she did the identical, she mentioned.
“I apologize for not enforcing this policy evenly at its outset, which I recognize created an appearance of being one-sided,” she mentioned.
Several individuals who spoke on the assembly in help of Ms. Caccavale urged directors to carry the police into school rooms and foster a dialogue in regards to the image.
Ms. Hansen rejected that suggestion, saying it ignored the emotions of youngsters like hers, who can be threatened to see officers in faculties.
“Why force that on our kids?” she requested. “If even one kid said ‘I am afraid of that symbol,’ isn’t that enough?”