A flag flown in support of law enforcement at Bloomington City Hall this month was an insult to residents and a tone-deaf gesture in a year dominated by calls for police reform, a group of activists said Thursday.
A version of the "Thin Blue Line" flag that features a blue line across a solid black background was raised for one week starting May 16 in recognition of National Police Week, a move Mayor Tim Busse shouldn't have taken, said Tahm Loyd, a member of the Bloomington Antiracist Coalition.
"If your constituents are telling you and the council that the flag is racist, offensive and openly hostile, why did you even consider flying it in the first place?" Loyd said at a news conference Thursday alongside community members and activists, including civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein and NAACP Minnesota President Angela Rose Myers. Hussein asked Busse to apologize and for the Bloomington City Council to pass a resolution banning flying the flag.
Busse issued an apology in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
"The City of Bloomington recognizes that the flying of the Thin Blue Line flag has caused much pain in our community," the statement read. "We apologize and will be having conversations with members of our community who have been impacted by this. We are committed to addressing our mistakes and finding opportunities where we can do better."
The debate in Bloomington comes amid others across the state and nationwide over the appearance and meaning of pro-police flags. Law enforcement leaders in some communities have defended the symbol, while others have said that its original meaning has been co-opted by racists and insurrectionists — a version of it was carried at both the Charlottesville, Va., "Unite the Right" rally in 2017 and at the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — and say it should no longer be flown.
On Thursday, Levy Armstrong said she expects more from Busse, someone she knows from the years they worked at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.
"It was a very hurtful decision to fly a flag that for many has represented oppression, has represented silence amongst police officers and the thin blue line that they do not cross when it comes to police misconduct and abuse," she said.
Levy Armstrong was charged with multiple misdemeanors for participating in a 2014 Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America that drew thousands of people. The charges were dismissed in 2015 by Hennepin County Chief Judge Peter Cahill, who said the protest was peaceful and not subversive.
Busse, in a video posted to Facebook, said the city has raised the flag over Civic Plaza for the past three years to commemorate National Police Week, and police asked for it again this year in an "honorable" request, Busse said.
"I don't believe for one second that there was a racist or threatening or insulting intent," he said in the video. Busse said flying the police flag was similar to the city's decision to fly the rainbow flag of the gay pride movement, something that also resulted in angry calls to his office, he said.
His comparison of the two flags drew more rebukes on Thursday, however, with Myers, of the NAACP, pointing out that the gay pride movement began 51 years ago with the Stonewall riots — a protest of police brutality against gay men. The rainbow flag is about unity, said Myers, and the thin blue line flag has come to represent division.
Said Hussein: "This is a reminder to all the cities: Do not fly the thin blue line flag … It's not just a Bloomington issue."