When a grand jury in December indicted Broward Sheriff's Deputy Peter Peraza for killing a civilian, his boss, Scott Israel, told the New York Times there "is no Thin Blue Line here." His people, he said, would have to answer to him if they shot unarmed civilians.
Since Peraza's trial began recently, the local Police Benevolent Association has been selling "Thin Blue Line" merchandise. Now local activists say the items are offensive.
Law enforcement officers have long claimed they are the final "Thin Blue Line" of defense between the public and criminals. Those who speak out against police abuse or corruption are often accused of crossing this line. Amid increased scrutiny of shootings by police, "Thin Blue Line" culture has been blamed for forcing officers into silence. (Cops who commit crimes themselves are also sometimes accused of crossing.)
When Peraza appeared in court for the first time in December, deputies packed the courtroom and spilled out into the hallway. They cheered and whooped when their coworker emerged from the courtroom. Many wore shirts emblazoned with "I Support Deputy Peraza" on the front.
On the back of those shirts was "All Lives Matter" — a slogan routinely criticized for being offensive to people of color. Above them flew a gray American flag with a single "Thin Blue Line" stripe.
"We've seen them wearing it at Jermaine McBean rallies, and it's disgusting," Jesse Cosme, an activist within Broward's Black Lives Matter movement, told New Times yesterday. "McBean really has brought out the worst in the sheriff's department."
In addition to the shirts, the union began peddling "Thin Blue Line" flags and watches last month, a union employee told New Times via phone yesterday. Proceeds from the items benefit the union's HOPE Fund, which, according to its website, provides financial assistance to "officers in need." (Broward cops voted to leave that union last October.)
Cosme, who has regularly attended Peraza's court dates in support of the McBean family, told New Times in January that he found the "All Lives Matter" slogan on the shirts offensive, given the fact that Peraza had "taken the life of another," whether lawfully or unlawfully.
When asked about the union's new merchandise yesterday, he said it implies that if someone "crosses that Thin Blue Line, the police aren't going to protect you anymore."
Jeff Marano, head of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, said, however, that his union is using the slogans to "express our admiration for the men and women in uniform who are under attack."
Marano said the union used the "All Lives Matter" slogan to show that his deputies protect people of all colors and races equally.
"We have to go into every community equally," he said. "If there's a belief that police officers are killing African-Americans, the data doesn't support that. Most people killing African-Americans are other African-Americans."
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President Barack Obama too has criticized the "All Lives Matter" slogan, saying it ignores real issues that face communities of color across the country.
But Marano claimed people complaining about any of the slogans are trying to "foster antipolice rhetoric."
Cosme, however, begs to differ. "The slogan implies that you should never question a single time an officer kills a human being," he said. "If you get upset and then threaten to take your guns somewhere else when you're criticized, that's like a child in a playground."