Thin Blue Line on the American Flag
June 18, 2020 9:56 AM   Subscribe

A neighbor is flying an American flag that contains the 'thin blue line'. It's not one of the black and white styles, it's red, white & blue, with the addition of the thin blue line. I need to make it go away.

Flag Code states that the American Flag should not be altered or added to in any form. This clearly violates that code.

I want to contact the owner and educate them in the nicest way possible while making it clear how wrong and upsetting this is. (That they're also flying a Trump flag underneath it is another story)

Please offer me your suggestions for the best verbiage to use so I can make this flag go away. Thanks.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze to Education (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose you could anonymously mail them the relevant section of the flag code, but let's be honest: they're flying the flag because they know it's offensive. That's the whole point. They specifically want to offend certain people, so asking them to stop being offensive will just encourage them.
posted by aramaic at 10:08 AM on June 18, 2020 [97 favorites]

Nothing you can say can make this go away. You're just providing (for free!) the delicious squeal that follows when you stick it to the libs.

Just fly your own flag, there's lots to choose from. Form cahoots with your neighbors and all y'all fly all kinds of flags. Drown them out!
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:09 AM on June 18, 2020 [43 favorites]

I harken back to Daryl Davis - he befriended KKK members as a black american, and decoverted them, not by arguing or convincing them of anything, but by just showing them that, on both sides, are people. Normal people. People who's kids are off to college, who's dog barks too much, who found a great new recipe for pulled pork on the barbeque.

I think Daryl Davis is a huge inspiration for reaching across the aisle in 2020. It's so easy to give up - big media and big twitter users are telling us it's a hopeless cause, that people are beyond reproach if they are trump supporters or don't understand BLM. But, as a white left-person, it took me a long time to realize how black people feel every time they interact with the police, or walking into a corporate boardroom surrounded by white people. Like, a few years of black people telling me as friends.

Flying a flag is a method of freedom of speech. I'm sure they are equally upset when they see rainbow flags.

I recommend trying to get to know them on a personal level, ignoring the flag. Really, really, try not to talk about politics, but learn about their work, family, pets, gardens, hobbies. Maybe you like the same types of music.

The more people I meet on both sides of an issue, the more I realize that there is just people on both sides. That it's not always us vs them, and that most times, both "sides" are just trying to solve the same problem, though they have decided that different solutions are what's best.

So, I don't think asking them to remove their flag is right. And I highly encourage you to instead, invite them over for coffee / a beer. Try to learn a thing or two about your neighbor. Can you imagine if we spent the same time talking to the people within .25 miles of us, as we talk to people online through social media?
posted by bbqturtle at 10:10 AM on June 18, 2020 [20 favorites]

Yeah I know it's not the answer you want to hear, but there's nothing you can do to make them take it down. Alas.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:10 AM on June 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Flag Code is not law & has no binding power or authority. Moreover, United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990) established that "flag desecration" is protected under the First Amendment. There is literally nothing you can say that will change the mind of someone who knowingly and willfully displays a "thin blue line" flag. In the best case scenario you will make an enemy of this person, and it only goes downhill from there (your efforts may actually cause your neighbor to increase these efforts). Really the best thing you can do in this case is to exercise your own First Amendment rights by flying a BLM flag or something similar (I wonder if there is a version of the American Flag where one of the stripes is black).
posted by slkinsey at 10:12 AM on June 18, 2020 [20 favorites]

I hate to break it to you, but unless your neighbor is flying it on public property there is nothing you can do to "make it go away".

Also, consider: if you had a rainbow flag hanging in your window in support of LGBTQ rights, you wouldn't want them knocking on your door to "educate you" about "what the Bible says about homosexuality" or whatever. You would be offended because it is your home and you have the right to make a public declaration of your own beliefs. That's what you're asking to do to them, and they would be just as offended (whether or not you care if they're offended is beside the point, I'm afraid).

Fortunately, as others are pointing out, the same rights that grant them to put up their own flag are also rights that protect your own ability to put up whatever you want on your own property.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:14 AM on June 18, 2020 [45 favorites]

Drop a copy of the US Flag Code with this section highlighted into their mailbox.

A person who is flying this flag, and a Trump flag, is not going to be receptive to this conversation and is doing it TO offend.

However in this situation I might be persuaded to put a Black Lives Matter yard sign or seven just riiiight on my edge of the property line.
posted by phunniemee at 10:15 AM on June 18, 2020 [19 favorites]

You probably can't make it go away if you have no pre-existing good relationship with these neighbors. If you know someone who does, and who you also get along reasonably with, you might consider seeing whether you can leverage that relationship in some way.

I think it's a good bet that they already know about the flag code and do not care, and will find a stranger's note about it funny and/or reinforcing that they're sending out exactly the message they want to send. You may want to do it anyway; making the statement may be worth it to you. If so, go to town, but just be prepared for the outcome to be an escalation of tensions and doubling-down.

Personally, I think I'd instead, or also, make a public counter-statement. Fly your rainbow flag sign, plant your black trans lives matter flag. If the American flag specifically is an important symbol to you, fly that one too, and adhere to flag code scrupulously.

You may not be able to make their flag go away and they may not give a damn what you think of them, but you can signal loud and clear to the other members of your community that there are other values at play in your neighborhood.
posted by Stacey at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Yeah, do be prepared for that. I buy my lawn signs in multiples and expect to lose some. Sigh.
posted by Stacey at 10:30 AM on June 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

Nthing that you can't do anything about it, but I would think really long and hard about the possible consequences of picking a fight with a neighbor that you can't get away from right now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:34 AM on June 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

Totally guessing at this person’s politics, but if you happen to be a veteran and you are genuinely insulted by flag desecration, in all cases, then you might have a chance of convincing them to take it down for that reason.

But if it is just a matter of the particular (hideous) politics they are espousing, then I don’t think you’ll have much luck with a direct confrontation. And their actions are protected, so perhaps speaking louder yourself with your own flags or signs is a better plan.
posted by nat at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Agree that you can use your own lawn and windows to make it clear what you stand for.

But if you're feeling contentious, you could get yourself an I'm With Stupid ----> flag that points in their direction...
posted by Mchelly at 10:40 AM on June 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

It is not illegal to project light onto a building, even a private household. You have infinite options on what you could project onto their house. But, if you want a gentler track, project it into your own house and enjoy your new rainbow flag paint job. Distract away from the fascist symbol. Take up more space than the fascist symbol. They have one flag. You get twenty. Make a scene. Make it so no one even glances at that fascist shit.

And while not always a popular stance, My personal ethics allow for the destruction of fascist symbols, even if they are private property. Free speech doesn’t shield you from the consequences of your speech. Your personal ethical mileage may vary, and what other have said about not angering neighbors should totally be heeded. Your call.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:41 AM on June 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Do you actually believe that alterations of the flag in order to express an opinion are inappropriate? If not, it really just feels like trolling to drop the Flag Code in his mailbox every day (which is the minimum frequency I'd recommend anyway).

Hang an All Cats are Beautiful flag or something.

As an aside, I've also been noticing lots of bumper stickers featuring super-aggressive, anti-police slogans that seem to have appeared out of nowhere and on cars I wouldn't expect to find sporting them.
posted by voiceofreason at 10:44 AM on June 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

There's not much you can or SHOULD do to remove it.

A couple of the above comments indicate that folks that do this intend to offend. I don't agree. I think their perception is that other people don't respect policing like they should and that offends THEM. It's that offense that motivates them to fly it. Comments above share the same sentiment but from the opposing perspective.

I hate the thin blue line symbology. To me, if represents a culture where officers dare not rat out another officer for misconduct. But get this, I'm a 20+ year civilian police department employee. I see other employees with thin blue line symbology all over their workplace. But I've come to realize that the symbology for them isn't malicious. It's just support for the profession.

In the end, I think its important to realize that symbols mean different things to different people. What's hurtful to some is an expression of support for something completely different to others. Have a level headed conversation about it - if you can. You both may learn something.
posted by whatisish at 10:45 AM on June 18, 2020 [12 favorites]

I need to make it go away.

Maybe just reframe what it means to you until you don't need that any more.

What that flag would mean to me is that I was living next door to somebody whose is proud to announce to the world: "I AM A DANGEROUSLY IGNORANT ASSHOLE, ONE YOU SHOULD TAKE CARE TO HAVE AS LITTLE TO DO WITH AS POSSIBLE", and I'd be grateful for the warning.

I don't have out-and-proud Trumpists living near me because I'm lucky enough to live on the other side of the planet from that particular arsehole, but on the way to the shops I do have to walk past a house with vehicles outside plastered with stickers saying things like MY OTHER TOY HAS TITS and FERTILIZE THE BUSH, DOZE IN A GREENIE and that's how I've had to come around to thinking about the owners.

I'm polite to them when we meet, as we do fairly often given the size of my little town, but if they're that determined to tell me who they are then the least I can do is believe them.
posted by flabdablet at 10:56 AM on June 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

Distract away from the fascist symbol. Take up more space than the fascist symbol. They have one flag. You get twenty. Make a scene. Make it so no one even glances at that fascist shit.

Oooh. Ooooh. This is giving me a genuis idea.

You may want to brace your other neighbors first - or see if they agree with you and may want to join in - but it may be fun to get an ever-evolving display of the most god-awful, over-the-top, tacky kitschy shit and put that up in your lawn instead to draw attention away from their house with some sheer silly. Like, start with an entire flock of lawn flamingos. And the next week, huge stuffed bears sitting on a picnic blanket on your lawn. And the following week, a whole wall of Billy Bass singing fish. And then round up a whole bunch of dolls and dress them up and stage a diorama of Woodstock or something.

There would not be a single person looking at your neighbor's lawn after that, and you may piss them off and they wouldn't be able to do a single thing about it, and you'd probably have a hell of a fun time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on June 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Police brutality and murder is a super duper heinous crime. Flying the thin blue line flag expresses an ultra-authoritarian attitude which says it isn't. Explicitly.

And it's been about half a decade since Fox and Friends concocted this notion that "tolerance" was somehow the guiding star of anyone to the left of Nixon, and so the libs are all hypocrites. But its old hat and entirely ridiculous, and I'm extremely disappointed to find that type of lazy thinking on the green.
posted by voiceofreason at 11:02 AM on June 18, 2020 [10 favorites]

I mean, they're flying a Trump 2020 flag. It's unlikely they care that this is upsetting to anyone (they probably want it to be upsetting to people). Can you fly a rainbow flag just to show passersby that not everyone in the neighborhood holds the same beliefs as your neighbors?
posted by jabes at 11:09 AM on June 18, 2020 [9 favorites]

Mod note: Couple comments removed. Chiding the asker for not tolerating intolerance isn't gonna fly, cut it out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on June 18, 2020 [24 favorites]

The following things are all true: You probably cannot make this go away. Your neighbors are probably good people, as far as that is a meaningful concept. They would probably be very offended if you flew an American flag with a rainbow in it. They would almost certainly not see this as hypocritical. Their minds can probably be changed, not by arguing, but by the investment of vast amounts of time and energy in building a relationship. No one owes them that investment, and it is probably not possible to fix society that way. There is a good chance they would, in fact, be pleased that their flag offended those they disagree with, because the American right has worked hard to pathologize empathy (virtue signalling) and normalize meanness (trigger the libs).
posted by Nothing at 11:11 AM on June 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

It’s not going to go away unless your neighbor decides to take it down, and steaming about it isn't going to accomplish anything except raising your blood pressure. But as I always say, you argue for the sake of the onlookers, not for the sake of the person you’re taking to. So I’d go with the option if flying a “Black Lives Matter” flag, just so your other neighbors, as well as people passing by, know that not everybody on the block is a fascist piece of shit.
posted by holborne at 11:13 AM on June 18, 2020 [7 favorites]

Or, not on preview, what jabes said.
posted by holborne at 11:14 AM on June 18, 2020

You might take your cue from the rainbow house across the street from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.
posted by FencingGal at 11:16 AM on June 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fly a bigger flag that supports causes you believe in.

You can't stop him flying a flag of a cause he supports, but by the same stretch he can't stop you flying yours. Be prepared for your signs to walk though & buy multiples. Because you know he's going to be a one rule for me & one for thee kind if he's supporting that sort of behaviour.

If nothing else if his flag is intimidating or hurtful to local people & making them feel bad, seeing an opposite message so close might reassure them, not everyone in the neighborhood supports fascism.
posted by wwax at 11:18 AM on June 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I agree with everyone saying that they're flying this flag to get a particular reaction, and so you should avoid reacting. The one detail here that's interesting is that they probably do think they're "upholding the sanctity of the flag" or whatever, and I bet you would get through to them if you pointed out that, no, they're actually desecrating the flag. I'm sure they'd be quite embarrassed and take the flag down. The problem is, though, that they'd almost certainly replace it with something else: the black and white blue line flag, a bigger Trump. You could win the battle but lose the war. In the meantime, just chuckle that these so-called patriots are really mocking the flag they claim to respect.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:23 AM on June 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would focus on how your other neighbors feel, and other people walking through your area.

If a person of color walks down your street today and sees that Thin Blue Line flag, they may feel a chill down their spine. They may feel unwelcome. They might turn around and leave the area, or speed up their steps and rush to another neighborhood. Later in the day, their mind might repeatedly flash back to that flag, and they may feel isolated and rejected every time.

If you put up a Black Lives Matter sign or flag, it will reduce that effect. The person of color will be reminded that they have allies, and that there is still hope of reducing racism over time. Throughout the day, when their mind flashes back to the Thin Blue Line flag, they will also remember the mental picture of your BLM sign.

Emulating the story about Daryl Davis (the black member who befriended KKK members) is well-intentioned but passive to the point of inadvertently becoming an enabler. It took Daryl Davis 30 years to convert those KKK members. While you're baking pies for your neighbor over the next 30 years to win them over, and sharing jokes while never ever questioning their politics, thousands of people of color will walk by and be upset by the Thin Blue Line flag. During all this time, the person being rewarded will be your neighbor (who gets your pies and camaraderie), and the people being hurt are the people of color who innocently walk down your street.

I support the BLM sign in the yard.
posted by cheesecake at 11:47 AM on June 18, 2020 [29 favorites]

Think about your own goals here:

- Are you worried about your other neighbors and their friends and family, especially Black neighbors, who might now see this as an expression of hate in their own neighborhood? Then consider flying a Black Lives Matter flag or putting up signs so they see the other neighbors aren’t all silent to the blue line flag.

- Are you upset yourself by having to see it because it’s proof that someone living nearby has this attitude? Know that this neighbor has outed themselves to you as harboring these attitudes, think through what you might say if this ever became a topic of conversation, realize these beliefs are literally closer to home than you thought, and let that push you even more to bettering your community at home. Maybe time to organize a neighborhood march? Voter registration drive?

- Are you irritated at having to look at this crap and wish the neighbor would have to feel irritated and annoyed too? This is the feeling to try and let go of. This person isn’t worth your time and attention. The more you try irk them, the more they will bask in the attention (if they’re a troll) or feel justified in the fake victimhood (like the crying McMuffin police officer).
posted by sallybrown at 11:51 AM on June 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Drop a copy of the US Flag Code with this section highlighted into their mailbox.

It is illegal to put anything other than mail inside a mailbox.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 11:55 AM on June 18, 2020 [9 favorites]

How much do you value preserving any sort of working relationship with your neighbor? It sounds like the dude flying the flag is kind of an asshat, who as other posters have pointed out is unlikely to take your sternly-worded letter about flag code seriously. So your choices are (1) do nothing; seethe with rage or (2) put up your own flagpole and hang the largest version of this flag as you can have made on it.
posted by Mayor West at 11:58 AM on June 18, 2020

If anyone is capable of making this particular flag comedown, a couple service members in dress blues stopping by and mentioning how disrespectful it is to the military to fly a variation of the US flag (and citing flag code) is the only thing that would do it.
posted by flimflam at 12:15 PM on June 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm firmly in the camp of not engaging in confrontational objection to the neighbour's flag, or in doing anything that encroaches on his property (if putting things in his mailbox means you'd have to walk on his land). Instead I'd be putting up my own, bigger, flag(s) which let people know my beliefs. I might also be thinking about installing a small wifi security camera, just in case yours go missing, or his get damaged (by someone else and he wants to accuse you of doing it).

Be this guy.
posted by essexjan at 12:43 PM on June 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

I suggest a pair of dark sunglasses.
posted by kindall at 12:44 PM on June 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Definitely hang your own social justice flag or sign. Perhaps your neighbor will be surprised that people don't agree with him. Perhaps other neighbors will join you. What I'm saying is, don't let it go unchallenged, which is a way of remaining silent. I believe you will feel better if you do, too.
posted by Glinn at 1:22 PM on June 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Others have covered what you can do physically to make yourself feel better, so here’s a link to some resiliency tools & exercises that might help.
posted by dianeF at 1:36 PM on June 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but I believe they are showing their support for law enforcement. I support law enforcement too. I want to see the system we use today shredded and rebuilt at maybe 1/10th the size and ten times the required qualifications, but in the end it will still be a sucky job that I’m glad that other people are willing to do.

Now I would never fly such a flag, because it would be tone deaf and because I know that people on the left would see it as supporting violent thugs hiding behind badges and killing people today. But I wouldn’t assume that your Trumpist neighbor understands that (or that they necessarily care what people on the left think). They may just thinK they’re showing support for the law enforcement people they know.

So assuming that they’re simply doing their own thing, a straightforward solution would be leave a note that says "I’ve seen your flag and I appreciate what you’re saying, but as an American patriot in pains me to see the Stars & Stripes modified in any manner. I wonder if you could find another way to show your support."

Obviously that isn’t going to convert them to liberals, but if that’s your real goal then you’re on your own. :-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:25 PM on June 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

"If anyone is capable of making this particular flag comedown, a couple service members in dress blues stopping by and mentioning how disrespectful it is to the military to fly a variation of the US flag (and citing flag code) is the only thing that would do it."

if you were to pursue any course of direct confrontation, this is the best suggestion in the thread. maybe. if you have a couple of service members laying around.

i suspect any action you take—no matter how reasonable—will be contorted to cast them as a victim. i don't think people like this care about the law. or the flag. people like this care about authority and their (perceived) relationship to it.

whatever action you do take, direct or otherwise, i'm seconding essexjan re: cameras. and as others have suggested, probably a good idea to stay off their lawn.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 2:38 PM on June 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes got upset when his neighbors started putting up "Hate Has No Home Here Signs" in their yards. Buy a bunch of signs, put one up and offer them to neighbors who compliment or ask you about your sign.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:56 PM on June 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

Tell Me No Lies: because it would be tone deaf

I think you are giving the neighbor--and the Thin Blue Line/Blue Lives Matter movement--way too much credit here. It is not simply "tone deaf", it's a flag that celebrates the killing of black Americans. Personally, I feel it's akin to flying a swastika or Confederate flag. It is not an act of "support for law enforcement" to fly it, it's specifically an act of "support for law enforcement against the movement to stop them killing black people". The flag was popularized as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, not in a vacuum.

That said: I agree with bbqturtle's comment about reaching out across the aisle rather than seeking antagonistic action against this person. I feel even more strongly about it if you, OP, are white. I think it's important for people who feel safe building relationships to take the lead in doing so. E.g. in my swastika analogy--which is by no means a perfect one--I would feel too scared to talk to someone flying a swastika, but I would love a non-Jewish neighbor to talk to that person and give them a friendship and social group where hate symbols are not tolerated.
posted by capricorn at 3:42 PM on June 18, 2020 [7 favorites]

It is absolutely astounding that some equate the flying of the white supremacist "thin blue line" flag with the flying of a rainbow flag.


I guess swastikas and confederate flags are fine (even comparable to a rainbow flag!) in your neighbourhood, too? Cuz freeze peach!

Let's work together on getting this flag down. ACAB.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 3:58 PM on June 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

If my neighbor flies his don't tread on me flag again, I'm planning a 2 a.m. raid. i'm tired of being polite.

Can I call any of y'all for bail?
posted by theora55 at 4:06 PM on June 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Quick note, let's keep the focus on helping the asker find "the best verbiage to use so I can make this flag go away". Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:33 PM on June 18, 2020

“Hey, Bob, your flag is stained.”

“Huh? Oh you mean that blue line on it?”


Play dumb and let your neighbor tell you what it means. Then you can work out their feelings. Maybe it is an honest mistake. Maybe they are worried about their cop brother and are flying it for him. Maybe he is racist. First step would be to find out.

Most likely the neighbor knows exactly what it means and is showing off. “So you are okay with people thinking you are racist? Because I thought you weren’t the type because of [something you notice about him, like how he takes out Mrs. Wong’s trash can every week].”
posted by Monday at 3:06 AM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just a suggestion to avoid doing anything that involves crossing the property line, including light projection. If you want to deliver your own message via a counter-display, confine it to your own property and don't invite a response that it is you who are creating a nuisance.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:49 AM on June 21, 2020

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