Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Thin Blue Line

by Drew Martin
I have seen temporary purple lines painted down Christopher Street in Manhattan for the gay pride parade, and temporary green lines down the center of Central Avenue in Pearl River, NY for their St. Patrick’s Day parade. Now there are permanent blue lines being painted in northern New Jersey towns between the double yellow lines in the center of the streets to show an appreciation for the police. Previously, in other parts of the country there have been red lines painted in support of the fire department, and in Rhode Island there are red, white, and blue lines in the streets of some locations for patriotic flair.

The “thin blue line” refers to the mental demarcation that separates law-abiding citizens and criminals. The recent display of the blue line on roads is a reaction to the public outcry towards the few officers who have shot and killed (specifically) unarmed African Americans. For measure, in 2014, the FBI reported that more than 50 law enforcement officers were ‘feloniously’ killed in the line of duty, with about that number who died in accidents. The count may be higher as reported by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund: 126.

I grew up with respect for police because in my experiences they always seemed to be at the right place at the right time in my home town and NYC. For the most part, New York cops were unconcerned with petty offenses, such as jaywalking, so it was a surprise for me when I went to school in Santa Barbara and saw police officers hiding behind bushes on mountain bikes so they could ambush and ticket students who they saw riding their bikes on the sidewalk - a far cry from the swagger of CHiPs, which I liked to watch as a little kid. And after a very recent trip to Berkeley, CA I found a new appreciation for my local police in northern New Jersey. Berkeley’s town parks look like lawless refugee camps for homeless people who defecate in the bushes and heckle passersby. The small-town network of Bergen County, NJ means a police force for every town, which is more expensive in terms of taxes but it also means better paid and better trained officers, and greater stewardship. 

While public road markings are supposed to be uniform, there are no rules about what goes between the lines. It’s up to the state, county or municipality to decide. In the Village of Ridgewood, where I live, the blue line is painted in the center of the road for a couple-hundred-yard stretch in front of our library, town hall, and police station. I was running this morning very early, just after 4am, and took this picture. At that moment two police cars sped off on a medical response while everyone else was sleeping.