Riverside trustees nix flying Blue Lives Matter flag variant

Sells: 'There is nothing about this flag that's not divisive'

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By Bob Uphues


Elected officials in Riverside on July 16 turned aside a request by Village Trustee Alex Gallegos to fly a version of the Blue Lives Matter flag outside the township hall during the month of September to honor first responders, saying it was a divisive symbol that had been coopted by hate groups.

Gallegos' request appeared to be dead on arrival even before the July 16 village board meeting where it was discussed after word filtered out into the community via social media when the meeting agenda was published two days earlier.

In introducing the idea at the meeting, Gallegos tied flying the flag in September with the annual anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, asking his fellow trustees to have the village fly the flag "to recognize this day and our first responders."

Acknowledging the pushback he and other elected officials received in the two days prior to the village board meeting, Gallegos pointed to his Hispanic heritage, asking those who saw racism and bigotry in the Blue Lives Matter flag to "take them up with me directly. And I will defend those flags for the true meaning for which they were intended."

At the same time, Gallegos said, his proposal "was only a suggestion and I'm sure that my fellow trustees have their own thoughts and suggestions."

The Blue Lives Matter flag was created in 2014 after two New York City police officers were killed in the line of duty. It's a black and white American flag with a blue stripe through the center symbolizing the "thin blue line," a concept that police are the barrier standing between civilized society and chaos.

The flag was a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which began around 2013 in response to police officers killing unarmed Black people and police brutality against people of color generally.

In short order, the Blue Lives Matter flag began being used by those protesting Black Lives Matter. For example, white supremacists demonstrating in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 carried the Blue Lives Matter flag alongside the Confederate battle flag and other flags bearing fascist symbols.

"There is nothing about this flag that's not divisive, so for that reason the flag is inappropriate," said Village President Ben Sells, who added that the village just two weeks earlier had dedicated its entire July 4 parade to honoring first responders, and that the village's first responders participate annually in a 9/11 memorial ceremony with neighboring communities and that Oct. 28 is National First Responders Day.

That day, he said, "would be another opportunity where we could have an unambiguous statement about what we're actually talking about."

No other trustees expressed support for the request, which was to fly a version of the Blue Lives Matter Flag that swaps the solid blue stripe through the center with a red and blue one to symbolize support for police and firefighters.

A number of residents emailed letters, which were read during the village board meeting, opposing the request, and a handful of residents who have been involved with Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the past two months spoke out publicly against the use of the symbol.

No one spoke in favor of flying the flag.

Devin Conrath, a recent Riverside-Brookfield High School graduate who has been an active participant in local Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of police in Minneapolis in late May, told trustees that it "would be a big F.U. to fly this flag at this time in history."

RBHS graduates Shalah and Seymone Russell, in a letter read to trustees during the meeting by Audrey Santora, said that trustees were even considering the proposal to fly a version of the Blue Lives Matter flag was "an insult to us as Black women."

"It makes us feel unwelcome in our own community," the Russells wrote. "That flag silences Black voices in this town" and that the flag "is merely an attempt to cover up systemic racism."

Trustee Edward Hannon, who said he did not think flying the flag was appropriate, did defend the village board's discussion of Gallegos' proposal, saying, "That's the whole reason why we have the village board meeting."

But, Trustee Cristin Evans said elected officials should take more care when coming to the board table with proposals.

"Trustees have a responsibility, prior to bringing something to the board, as far as researching what it is they want to propose," Evans said. "It could be a harmful idea. … I do think we have a responsibility to do a little research before putting it on the agenda."



Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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Reader Comments

9 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

Brian Kuratko  

Posted: July 24th, 2020 9:00 PM

How ironic, just a few short moths ago, the "First Responders" were hailed as heroes and received unwavering support from our Village and residents as "essential" workers during the COVID crisis. Now, the " First Responders", allegedly because of the narrow minded perceptions of a few, a flag, is deemed 'decisive' and 'racist'? It appears the Board decision was, at minimum, confusing, but the message sent to residents is hypocritical....please Riverside, rethink this position!

Kevin Gleeson from Lyons  

Posted: July 22nd, 2020 10:19 PM

In what would it "be a big F.U. to fly this flag at this time in history?" Can one not be against police brutality and at the same time salute the fallen in line of duty? Or is this a unanimous tacit admission by BLM that they are at their core anti-police, that "pigs in blankets, fry them like bacon" is the chant of the BLM mainstream, not just the fringe? If the flag of fallen first responders is perceived as an affront, offend away.

Marion Malacina from No. Riverside  

Posted: July 22nd, 2020 7:47 PM

Just put up the red, white and blue flag and leave it at that. Its the only one that really counts.

Tommy Schoenfeld from Ft. Myers  

Posted: July 21st, 2020 9:59 PM

So when did our flag become Police Lives Matter ? To us it was always know as the Thin Blue Line, representing the line between us protecting all of you from chaos. We all knew this current state of affairs was coming for many years. I personally didn't think it would be in my lifetime. Were in national dilemma over wearing masks & flags. Best to resolve the underlying issues before the point of no return.

Ed Sel  

Posted: July 21st, 2020 10:51 AM

A flag supporting law enforcement is completely divisive, but the gay flag isn't? You people on the village board knew this stuff was coming at you as soon as you approved the gay flag a while back. Now you're in the flag approval business with all of the community drama and potential protests that go along with it. No, cops don't really need their own flag, but neither should any other group, including gays. Don't twist yourselves into pretzels with phony nuanced arguments about which flags are OK and which aren't. Fly the American flag on public property and leave it at that.

Fred Mertz  

Posted: July 20th, 2020 2:57 PM

The first responders in my family, and their friends, don't feel the need to have their own different color flag. They're proud of the job they do, and proud to be wearing the American flag on their shoulders. A well adjusted person doesn't need, or desire, a flag of their own to waive around, or show off with.

Dan Moon  

Posted: July 20th, 2020 12:54 PM

I agree with trustee Gallegos' proposal for the display of the "blue lives matter" flag honoring fallen first responders. These men and women put their lives on the line every day, and, to reject this honor by its citizens and community leaders is an insult. This variation of the flag, originating in 2014, honoring first responders, has NOT been co-opted by hate groups, as remarked. It has been popularly and proudly displayed with respect for years prior to the alleged incident of display in Charlottesville. On July 13th, this year, in Bothell Washington, a bedroom community, near where I used to live, police officer Jonathon Shoop was cold bloodedly murdered as he sat behind the wheel of his squad car. Young officer Shoop join the dozens of officers killed in felonious assault (48 in 2019). First responders' lives matter.

Todd Love  

Posted: July 20th, 2020 1:45 AM

The Riverside police deserve better. Shame on you Riverside, you are showing what entitled privileged brats you are.

Gary Boxell from Riverside  

Posted: July 18th, 2020 9:00 PM

Wow! Mr. Gallegos really doesn't understand things.

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