A billboard with the “blue lives matter” flag. Tony Webster – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
High school student Bodhi Kolwaite noticed an increase of “blue lives matter” imagery in his town of Weymouth, Massachusetts, and decided to do something about it. Since the recent uprisings against police brutality across the country, he noticed the imagery adorning classroom walls, football games and even the masks of some teachers. Kolwaite began by creating a petition to call for their removal.
“For years now our school system has had this ‘blue lives’ flag which — propped up as a direct opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement — has been paraded around at our school,” Kolwaite reported to Liberation News. “Due to the murder of George Floyd and the protests that sparked, a group of students and I felt as though it was about time to take this hateful symbolism out of our place of learning. It’s making students of color feel extremely uncomfortable and it isn’t necessary for a good learning environment.”
A racist response
The town responded with a counterpetition, created by another Weymouth high school student to keep the flags in schools. It garnered nearly 9,000 signatures. The original gathered 3,000. Kolwaite and the supporters of the original petition were not surprised. “It was completely expected for our small, mostly white, conservative, racist town to respond in a conservative, racist way.”
The counterpetition argued, “The flag is not an example of racism, the flag honors our fallen hero killed in the line of duty protecting residents of Weymouth.”
Kolwaite disagrees: “These flags popped up more around the time of the Black Lives Matter protests, but what got them into our schools was the murder of a local officer, [Michael] Chesna. Officer Chesna was killed in Weymouth and as much of a tragedy as it was, [his death] was used as a stepping stone for conservatives to insert their racist beliefs into our schools.”
The ‘thin blue line’ isn’t apolitical
The symbol became significantly more visible in the community after George Floyd’s murder. It accompanied numerous “Back the Blue” counter-protests held in Weymouth. At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests across the country, “thin blue line” flags, stickers, and ribbons could be seen on every block in the town.
The rhetoric surrounding “blue lives matter” isn’t new. Similar “dog whistles” have been used to defend hate symbols such as the confederate flag, the Gadsden flag, and even the swastika. What was a “blue lives matter” flag doing at the riot on the Capitol this past January? What did it honor aside from right-wing bigotry and violence as it was carried defiantly past security into a government building?
The unbridled anger at Donald Trump’s presidential loss that triggered the riot at the Capitol was felt by Weymouth residents, too. For Kolwaite, pent-up election emotions were screaming to be let out. “Our town is so devoid of anyone ever speaking up against racism that when a group of people actually does and actually wants to make a concrete change, it makes everyone go up in the air.”
Youth activism continues in Weymouth
According to Kolwaite, the petition for the removal of the “thin blue line” imagery in public schools wasn’t the first taste of youth activism. In the summer, Kolwaite said, “A group of my friends started protesting outside our town hall for racial justice in our community. Many other townsfolk joined and all summer we went out and protested. We even moved our protests in front of the police station and tried to have talks with the mayor […] but no significant change was made. No one really listened to us.”
The school did form a committee to address racial justice, but to Kolwaite the committee did nothing but “distract from the actual issue, which is the removal of the flags.” It’s refusal to take any concrete political stance “points out a flaw in the way schools are managed. One person or a few people at the top make decisions for all students [who] at the end of the day, hold no power.”
Weymouth residents of all ages participated in the Black Lives Matter protests and in signing the petition. But Kolwaite emphasized that it was students who spearheaded the activism. “The main thing we can do to combat this kind of issue is to educate the youth and implement tools that they can actually make change with.”
Sign the petition and read Kolwaite’s detailed statement here.