Controversy surrounding the placement and removal of symbols intended to support law enforcement on sheriff’s office vehicles has led to action from the Clark County Council, though Council Chair Eileen Quiring has voiced her stance that the county does not have an issue of systemic racism that lies at the heart of arguments against “Thin Blue Line” imagery.
Quiring was the only member of the five-person council not to sign onto a response letter affirming support of a decision by Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins to remove “Thin Blue Line” decals from sheriff’s vehicles and property. The council discussed the letter during a remote work session June 24, a response to a letter the council had been addressed in alongside Atkins and Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik from Vancouver NAACP Legal Redress Committee Chair Shareefah Hoover urging the removal of the slogans and signals, stating that they “reflect counterprotesting and identity politics being inappropriately played out on official public property.”
Councilor Temple Lentz, who introduced the county’s response, said that Atkins had publicly acknowledged the decision to remove the decals at a virtual event commemorating Juneteenth on June 20, adding she felt it was the right decision.
Given that sheriff’s office vehicles are county-owned, Lentz felt it prudent that the council have a response. The signed letter stated that the Clark County Council “is committed to taking meaningful action to eliminate hate, bigotry, and racism in our county,” affirming support behind Atkins’ decision to remove the symbols.
Council Chair Quiring pressed Lentz on what she felt the “Thin Blue Line” decal meant, which Lentz said was “immaterial” to the conversation at hand.
“It is material, because you are offering this letter for the council to sign,” Eileen responded. Lentz then explained she felt the symbol had come to mean “to a large and undervalued section of our community, distrust of law enforcement.”
“I think that regardless of what anyone claims the original meaning was, that meaning has been distorted,” Lentz said. “For publicly-owned property to bear an insignia that has nothing to do with the public agency that owns it, especially when that insignia is divisive and means different things to different people, is utterly inappropriate.”
“I think that when anyone in a position of power ... starts to take ‘whataboutisms’ into the public eye, that we’re avoiding the real conversation, which is that right now we are talking about systemic racism,” Lentz said.
Lentz said she was grateful for law enforcement officers who did “excellent work,” though she said “there are a number of people in our community who deal with injustice every single day.”
“When they come to us and tell us that a decal that shouldn’t even be on police vehicles, because it is not a county insignia, when they come and tell us that that makes them concerned about whether or not they can trust law enforcement in our community, that it something worth listening to,” Lentz said.
“I do not agree with what the sheriff has done,” Quiring remarked. “I honor people who have given their lives in the line of duty to enforce laws that we as leaders make, and they have to go out there and enforce these laws. I believe their lives matter.”
“I think it’s horrible when people are discriminated against, and I feel empathy for those people, too,” Quiring continued. “That does not mean we have to set aside the people who defend the laws that we write, that we place.”
“I do not agree that we have systemic racism in our county, period,” Quiring remarked.
Councilor Gary Medvigy said he felt that a response to the Vancouver NAACP was owed by the council. He said he admired Atkins’ taking full responsibility for the decision to remove the decals, noting that until the controversy arose he had not been aware of the divisive nature that the “Thin Blue Line” flag had behind it.
“We need to recognize what this flag has come to mean in other circles,” Medvigy said, reiterating that he was in support of law enforcement.
Medvigy later clarified his stance in a personal statement, affirming his support of law enforcement while recognizing the connotations the “Thin Blue Line” symbolism has come to mean.
“The thin blue line meant to me and everyone I knew, support for law enforcement and their families when an officer was killed in the line of duty,” Medvigy wrote. “It meant a respect and love of service and the sacrifice that comes with it while serving the community.”
“I signed the letter to show my respect for the office of Sheriff and my recognition that this unofficial flag on public vehicles had very negative meanings for some in the community,” Medvigy wrote. “It was his decision to make.”
Medvigy argued that symbols like the “Thin Blue Line” decal did not have a place on publicly-owned property.
“As far as symbolism, I think it is just a bland statement to say there should be very few things on public property as far as symbols,” Medvigy said. “That’s not to show disrespect to our police in any regard.”
Quiring replied she believed the letter did make a statement about law enforcement support, adding she felt the letter put the blame on law enforcement for racism in Clark County.
Alongside Lentz and Medvigy, councilors Julie Olson and John Blom also signed onto the response letter.
“We don’t support law enforcement by talking about a sticker,” Blom remarked, adding that council’s support was by passing adequate budgets and addressing policy.