Police Chief Bill Scott’s decision to ban officers from wearing “Thin Blue Line” face masks while on-duty has become a selling point for the combative San Francisco police union.
The San Francisco Police Officers Association made the controversial face masks available for purchase Wednesday through a new website, labeling the coronavirus-fighting equipment the “official mask of the SFPOA.”
“We’ve received calls from all over the country,” the union wrote on Facebook, adding that 50 percent of sales will benefit a scholarship program for the children of fallen officers. “The outpouring of support has been huge.”
While SFPOA President Tony Montoya has argued that the “Thin Blue Line” flag represents “law enforcement’s separation of order and chaos” in commemoration of officers who died in the line of duty, critics say the flag has inextricably become a symbol for “Blue Lives Matter” — the counter protest to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The symbol, a black and white American flag with a blue line across the middle, was also reportedly seen during the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
“The POA is an independent entity and free to make and sell whatever they wish,” said Police Commission member John Hamasaki, who was among the first to criticize the masks last Friday when a number of San Francisco Police Department officers responded to an unrelated housing protest with their faces covered in flags.
“However, as an organization affiliated with SFPD, a department that is dedicating itself to reform, one would hope that they would choose a symbol that has not become so intertwined with hate groups and white supremacists to promote their club,” Hamasaki added.
The San Francisco Examiner was the first to report on the controversy last Friday.
Hours after the protest,Scott ordered all officers to stop wearing the masks while on duty out of concerns that they “may be perceived as divisive or disrespectful,” according to an internal email obtained by the Examiner.
SFPD policy bans officers from engaging in political activity while on-duty. One expert has told the Examiner that the masks violate that policy.
In response to the order, Montoya blasted Scott for caving to “professional protesters,” or as he put it in a scathing letter, the “haters who have made a cottage industry out of carping, complaining, and stereotyping the police.”
“To be clear,” Montoya said, “We absolutely reject any correlation between our face coverings and any group that promotes racism, hate, or bigotry. It is a fact that extremist groups attempt to use well-known symbols to mainstream their repugnant ideas. We repudiate their beliefs and refuse to let them win.”
But for those who have long feared there are “white supremacist tendencies within law enforcement agencies,” said Kate Chatfield, a legislation and policy advisor with the Justice Collaborative, “this does not assuage those fears.”