The Thin Blue Line


In the U.S. more law enforcement officers have died in targeted and ambush-style killings in 2016. This have added popularity to the Thin Blue Line flag, a sign of support for police officers and their families.

Last Sunday, 20 November 2016, three police officers in three different states were shot in apparently unprovoked and execution-style attacks. A veritable wave of attacks on law enforcement officers have happened this year. On July 7 in Dallas, Texas, one person killed five police officers and injured nine others. Ten days later six officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were ambushed and shot by one lone perpetrator, three of them died.

The deliberate targeting of law enforcement personnel and the many deaths recently have given rise to the Blue Lives Matter campaign and flags with a single blue stripe, the so-called Thin Blue Line, have become more widely used as a sign of support for the law enforcement community. Blue is considered the color of the police.

The Thin Blue Line has its origins in the 1988 documentary “The Thin Blue Line”. In the film the police is described as “a thin blue line” between society and anarchy. The expression stuck and flags and bumper stickers with a thin blue line became widespread, not least in families of fallen police officers. Law enforcement officers who had died in the line of duty would be remembered and honored with for example blue laser beams, blue ribbons and flags with blue stripes.

It was Rudyard Kipling who, in the 1890 poem “Tommy”, used the expression “the thin red line” about soldiers – heroes that would not always be respected by those they protect. The Thin Blue Line inspired other groups of professionals serving the citizens, keeping them safe from harm or risking their own lives to save the lives of others:

The Thin Red Line is used by firefighters and to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty. The red line is the most widely used besides the blue line.

The Thin White Line is connected to emergency medical services, to paramedic healthcare workers and to ambulance personnel.

The Thin Silver Line is used by detention and prison officers, also known as correctional or corrections officers.

The Thin Green Line is used by border patrol officers, national park rangers and personnel of the environment services.

The Thin Orange Line is used by search and rescue personnel.

In the U.S. the Thin Line flags exist in two versions: 1. Black flags with one narrow stripe of color. (The Thin White Line flag, however, would usually have a blue background.) 2. Modified black and white U.S. flags with one stripe of color: blue for police, red for firefighters, silver for corrections and detention officers, etc.

Inspired by the Thin Line flags in the U.S., national flags in black and white, or greyscale, with narrow stripes of color have become popular in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and other countries.


This is part 2 in a series on American flag culture, November 2016. Read also:
The Rainbow Flag
The NFL Quarterback Who Took A Stand By Not Standing
Remarkably Few U.S. Flags At Protests, Flag Burnings Reported


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