Editorial: The line between us

November 23, 2018

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try to come together. Things just keep driving you apart.

We are finding that now as we try to claw our way back to a better place after the tragedy that ripped apart the heart of Squirrel Hill when a gunman murdered 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue.

On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins took the ice at PPG Paints Arena for the first time since the tragedy. The team remembered the lives lost with 11 seconds of silence, one for each soul lost on Saturday. When it came time to drop the puck, Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert was joined by officers Anthony Burke and Mike Smigda. They also carried a flag made up of black and white stars and stripes, except for one band of blue across the middle.

And that was where things got dicey on social media, with critics calling that the Blue Lives Matter flag and calling the display inappropriate.

But is it?

The flag in question is actually called the Thin Blue Line flag. While it has been drawn into the clash between Black Lives Matter -- a chorus of voices that has risen in reaction to people of color who have been killed in conflicts with law enforcement -- the flag predates that movement.

The symbol of that ribbon of blue has been cited for more than 100 years, an allusion to the stalwart line of those who stand between society and chaos. It is not the first time it has been flown in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. It was prominent in the funeral of Canonsburg Officer Scott Bashioum in 2016.

And that is why it was brought onto the ice.

Burke and Smigda were wounded running toward the carnage at the synagogue. So were two other gun-shot officers who were still hospitalized, and two others who had minor non-gunshot injuries.

In the whirlwind of grief and attention that has swirled since the shooting, the focus has, naturally and nationally, been on the lives that ended. The Penguins ceremony was the first real chance for anyone to pay real respect to the police officers who walked or ran into a deadly situation knowing full well they might never walk out. They did it willingly and they did it dutifully, and there is no telling how many lives were saved because the man with the gun who screamed even under arrest and in the hospital that he wanted to kill Jews did not get a chance to take his gun out of the synagogue onto a street in the city’s most prominently Jewish neighborhood.

Yes, the Thin Blue Line flag has been raised as part of a sometimes ugly debate between civil rights of a minority and support of the people whose job it is to protect us.

No, that is not the flag’s purpose, no more than a cross is evil because it is corrupted by the Ku Klux Klan.

The social media response speaks of people watching a tragedy and waiting for a chance to be offended, which doesn’t help anyone.

Isn’t it better to do what the Penguins did? Remember the lost, embrace the wounded, celebrate the heroes.

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