ECPD issues apology for ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag following #ESOCWeekofAction


A “Thin Blue Line” flag was displayed on a computer in the Emerson College Police Department office in August 2018. (NOTE: This photo was provided to The Beacon by a community member with the face of the dispatcher covered)

By Dana Gerber, News Editor

The Emerson College Police Department issued a public apology Wednesday for intermittently displaying a “Thin Blue Line” flag—a common symbol of Blue Lives Matter, a loose, pro-police countermovement to Black Lives Matter—as a screensaver on one of their office’s computers. 

The demand for a public apology, which was released on Emerson Today, was one of many that emerged from #ESOCWeekofAction—a campaign spearheaded by on-campus activist organization Protesting Oppression with Education Reform. 

“The incident regarding a Blue Lives Matter flag screen-saver, displaying intermittently on a computer screen visible within the department, was addressed promptly and removed once it was brought to ECPD leadership’s attention,” said the apology from Vice President for Administration and Finance Paul Dworkis, who oversees ECPD, and ECPD Chief Robert Smith. 

“We also stated an apology to anyone who, as a result of witnessing this symbol, felt that the Emerson College Police Department was not a trusted and supportive arm of the College, especially those members of our BIPOC community. We also apologize to any student who, at the time, or currently, did/does not feel safe or protected in reaching out to ECPD for help and support,” the statement continued.

Blue Lives Matter is a pro-police slogan and countermovement sparked in 2014 in response to Black Lives Matter, which protests—among other things—disproportionate police brutality against Black people.

The apology comes as the college plans to launch an initiative to “reimagine” ECPD, sparked by nationwide protests in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by police. The reimagining initiative will be led by a committee of students, faculty, and staff chosen by Smith. Smith said the committee will review ECPD services and determine which ones could be shifted to other areas of the college. 

The #ESOCWeekofAction list of demands also included a list of “community care” alternatives to ECPD, such as community mediators, a crisis response team, and mental health services, “especially services for students of color.”  

“We demand an alternative resource list created and distributed throughout Emerson in regards to ECPD,” the demands read. “We demand that RAs specifically be given alternatives to calling ECPD during incidents in residence halls on campus.” 

The list will include resources from the Center for Health and Wellness, Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services, and Housing and Residential Education, according to the college’s Community Action Plan, which responds to each of the demands. Administrators will be responsible for training Residential Assistants to contact these resources in the case of a residence hall incident. An alternative hotline will also be created for students and RAs. 

According to the Community Action Plan, these efforts are “already underway, with assessment in fall 2021 to determine effectiveness of initial efforts.”

In its current form, ECPD responds to and investigates misconduct on and around campus, offers free escorts to locations on campus as well as anywhere between the Park Street, Arlington, and Chinatown MBTA stops, manages the lost and found, and provides members of the community with temporary ID passes when needed. 

However, the department has been criticized in the past for allegedly failing to appropriately respond to and thoroughly investigate incidents reported by students, particularly instances of sexual assault and harassment.

Charlie McKenna contributed reporting.