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Calls for Winnipeg police board chair to step down over use of 'thin blue line' image

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A police abolitionist group is calling on a Winnipeg city councillor to apologize and step down as police board chair after using what some consider to be a divisive symbol in a tweet earlier this month.

In a tweet offering his condolences to the families of two Edmonton police officers killed in the line of duty, Coun. Markus Chambers included an image of a 'thin blue line' patch. An hour later, Chambers changed the picture to that of an Edmonton Police Service badge.

A tweet from Winnipeg Police Board Chair Markus Chambers on March 16, 2023, including an image of a Thin Blue Line patch (left) was replaced an hour later with the picture of an Edmonton Police Service badge (right). (Source: Winnipeg Police Cause Harm)

“The image that was selected, I didn’t want that to become the story,” Chambers told CTV News on Monday. “I wanted the expression of condolences to the families, to the community to be the story.”

However, abolitionist group Winnipeg Police Cause Harm (WPCH) says the 'thin blue line' is a divisive and problematic symbol.

“[It] really exemplifies police hostility to the public and demonstrates the ‘us versus them’ narrative, which we think is really harmful,” WPCH member James Wilt told CTV News.

Wilt said 'thin blue l'ine imagery started gaining popularity around 2015.

“There was a lot of resistance to police violence in the U.S. with the emergence of Black Lives Matter,” Wilt explained. “And so, with the rise of the counter-narrative to that, the pro-police narrative Blue Lives Matter.”

Kevin Walby, an associate professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Winnipeg, said the image has since been co-opted by hate groups.

“I think it’s really important to denounce this, the use of this symbol, which is so clearly indexed to hate,” Walby told CTV News. “And whether or not the councillor knows that, whether or not the city council knows that, it’s very clear. It cannot be disputed at this point."

Chambers said that wasn’t his intention when he embedded the 'thin blue line' image in his tweet,

“There are still those who sincerely believe that the intent of it was to memorialize fallen officers. That’s the perspective I used it under,” Chambers said.

However, WPCH members want Chambers to be held accountable.

“We would like to see an apology, a denouncing of the symbol, and also Councillor Chambers step down as chair of the police board,” Wilt said.

Wilt said the police board should only act an intermediary between the public and police.

“If he’s explicitly taking these very harmful pro-police stances, [the board] is not really doing that duty,” Wilt said.

“I’m not going to apologize,” Chambers told CTV News. “Again, this is a story about the two fallen officers, not the interest of these individuals who are co-opting this message. The loss of these two officers actively trying to serve and protect our community."

'Thin blue line' imagery has been denounced by law-enforcement agencies throughout Canada and the U.S., including the RCMP.

The Winnipeg Police Service did not respond to a request for comment on its policy. 

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