Mount Prospect chief explains 'thin blue line' image at community conversation on race

Mount Prospect Police Chief John Koziol defended the use of the "thin blue line" symbol on the department's uniforms, during an online community conversation Tuesday about racial justice and inclusion.

Koziol said the symbol - a black-and-white American flag with a blue stripe in the center - has always meant for police a line between chaos and order, and over the years it also has come to signify honoring the fallen.

Similar imagery has appeared in white nationalist symbols and events, including the violent August 2017 marches in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"All the police officers I know have never looked at it as a symbol of hate," Koziol said. "I understand that there is a white supremacist who carried the (thin blue line) flag at a demonstration in Virginia that started this talk of it meaning something else. But there is also an American flag next to him, and it's been hijacked by him, maybe, but I'm just not ready to go there and agree that this is some sort of a hate symbol."

The online community conversation, hosted by the village's Community Engagement Committee and attended by 120 people, was the first in a series of dialogues planned by the committee.

"We all have to work harder to normalize racial diversity in Mount Prospect, to condemn racist behavior, and convince all Mount Prospect neighbors that black lives truly matter here," Mayor Arlene Juracek said.

Koziol and his staff outlined department efforts to reach out to the community, including its permanent beat system in which officers are assigned to the same geographic locations to get familiar with the people in those areas.

Officers receive training in implicit bias and racial profiling and take part in outreach activities like the "Kickin' It With The Cops" summer youth soccer program and the Five-O 5K Run/Walk to benefit the village's food pantry, officials said.

Among the other speakers was Julia Narain, a mother of three daughters who has lived in the village for more than 10 years. Narain, who is Black, said her experiences in the community have been mainly positive, but she also has sat silently listening to "misinformed and sometimes blatantly ignorant comments in conversations."

"My silence is just as guilty as those comments," she said, adding that "the combined silence of both parties leads to all of us ignoring the situation."

The problem spills over into the next generation, she said.

"You may be shocked to learn that kids are running around using the 'N' word, making racist jokes, and solidifying their impression that their heritage and culture is superior," she said.

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