In one Texas town, a dead Black man and a hockey team’s divisive ‘thin blue line’ jerseys

Illustration for article titled In one Texas town, a dead Black man and a hockey team’s divisive ‘thin blue line’ jerseys

Photo: Allen Americans/Twitter

Marvin Scott III’s family wasn’t notified of his death in the Collin County Detention Agency until nearly 15 hours later, and then only by a text message from the medical examiner.

Marvin Scott iii.

Marvin Scott iii.
Photo: Lee Merritt/Instagram

One day earlier, on March 14, Scott, who had a history of mental illness and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia years prior, was arrested by the Allen, Texas, police in the parking lot of a local outlet mall for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. According to the arresting officers, Scott was “incoherent” when police arrived on the scene. But rather than taking Scott, whose family says was undergoing a mental health crisis, to a specialized care facility like officers had done on previous occasions, police took Scott to a hospital — and later to jail.

Just after 10 p.m., after being pepper sprayed, placed in a spit mask, and held down and placed in a restraint chair, then a restraint bed, Scott became unresponsive. He was transported to a hospital by paramedics, who pronounced him dead. After an investigation by Texas Rangers, seven detention officers were fired. Another detention officer resigned while under investigation.

On April 3, less than a month after Scott’s death, the Allen Americans, an ECHL hockey team located in the same north Dallas suburb, and who play across the street from where Scott was arrested, held their annual Police v. Fire on Ice game, where the local cops and firefighters face off prior to the Americans game. The winner of the match determines which jerseys the Americans will sport in the first period of that night’s game.

The police bested the fire department this time around, prompting the Americans to wear police jerseys, featuring the highly controversial “thin blue line” flag.

The backlash from Americans fans was swift and damning on social media:

If you don’t know the history of the “thin blue line” flag, these jerseys probably seem innocuous, yet the flag itself has become a symbol of police brutality, white supremacy, and an “All Lives Matter” pushback to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The symbol itself rose to prominence in 2014, in response to widespread protests to the deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. And while many in law enforcement will insist that the flag signifies only support for police and nothing more, it’s worth noting that the flag was carried alongside the Confederate flag, both at 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and again at the deadly January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Recently, the flag has been paired with the Punisher logo, another symbol embraced by the police (as well as the military), who celebrate Marvel’s vigilante and his ability to mete out justice, through force, whenever he deems it necessary. This is also where we should probably mention that the Punisher skull was inspired in part by the “totenkopf” logo worn by the Nazi SS. (Gerry Conway, who created the character, has been vocal about his desire to “reclaim” the symbol from the far right, saying The Punisher was never meant to be a symbol of “oppression.”)

Increasingly, communities across the United States have begun outlawing the flag, which sends a divisive political message, especially when flown in response to protests of police brutality. In 2020, the police chief at the University of Wisconsin at Madison banned the use of the flag by officers while on duty, saying the flag had been “co-opted by extremists.” That same year, Connecticut’s Middletown Police Department vowed to stop publicly displaying the flag, following a petition by residents. And in May 2020, San Francisco police officers were prohibited from wearing “thin blue line” coronavirus masks.

Just this week, police in Wauwatosa, Wisc., came under fire for appearing in front of the flag during a children’s reading event.

Making the thin blue flag an even worse look, the Americans are an affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. Though the Wild are technically headquartered in St. Paul, across the river lies Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was murdered and where former police officer Derek Chauvin is currently on trial for his murder.

At a time when communities across America are reexamining their relationship (and funding) with police departments, the Americans seem to be on a one-team mission to rehabilitate the image of the friendly, local cop. Last November, well after the summer’s Black Lives Movement and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans at the hands of police, the Americans announced their partnership with “Patrol Stories” to “build awareness of positive policing.” Allen, a community that is 40 percent non-white (up from 28 percent in 2017) is, as one source close to the team, who asked to remain anonymous, told Deadspin, a place where “white conservatives are so vocal, they drown everyone else out.”

We had a lot of questions for the Allen Americans’ front office. Like, who designed the thin blue line flag jerseys? Who approved them? And what did they say to those who felt it was an affront to the community that has recently lost a Black resident at the hands of law enforcement officers? Did they have anything to say to Marvin Scott III’s family? Unfortunately, though the Americans took down my contact information and promised to have team President, Mike Waddell, return my call, I never heard from him, or anyone. A message left directly on Waddell’s cell phone similarly went unanswered, as did an email to team owner Jack Gulati.

As for the Minnesota Wild, the Americans’ NHL affiliate, they told Deadspin they had no comment on the jerseys.

Given that no one involved with the Americans seems willing to talk about how the thin blue line flag found its way onto their jerseys, it’s hard to conclude it was anything other than a deliberate decision. After all, there is also a far less-controversial thin red line flag used to support firefighters, yet that flag didn’t make the Americans’ jerseys.

At this point, it’s impossible for anyone to argue ignorance as to what the thin blue line stands for, especially after it was so heavily featured in right-wing counter protests last summer. The flag is divisive enough that communities across the country are removing it from public display. It’s difficult to imagine that prominently displaying the flag on the Americans’ uniforms less than a month after a Black man died, in their own town, at the hands of the police, was anything less than a deliberate statement by the team.

And it’s a statement they should have to answer for.

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