Cops in the town of Port Hope, Ontario, have launched a "Blue Lives Matter" campaign that critics argue is tone-deaf at best and an egregious form of appropriation at worst.
Police in Port Hope, a small town located about 62 miles east of Toronto, started selling T-shirts with the slogan "Blue Lives Matter" last week in an attempt to fundraise and draw attention to "all the police officers who have given their lives in the line of duty," Chief Bryan Wood told Northumberland Today.
The wording appears to be a play off the Black Lives Matter movement, which was created in part to highlight the extent of police brutality and the systemic racism within law enforcement toward black people.
When Cobourg resident Meghan Sheffield, 31, noticed the local force tweeting about the T-shirts, she said she was shocked. "My reaction was literally, 'Oh no,'" Sheffield told VICE. "The Port Hope Police is a mostly male, white Canadian police association co-opting the words of a movement that was founded by queer black women for their own purposes.
"Certainly policing is a very high risk occupation, and we know that, but the idea that the lives of police officers have value has never been in question. Black Lives Matter came about because the American black community has been disenfranchised to the point that there are circumstances where the lives of black people have actually seemed to hold no value in a system that claims to protect everyone equally."
Sheffield said she contacted the police and was told T-shirt sales at the station would stop and tweets related to it would be deleted. She was informed, however, that the fundraiser was organized by the Port Hope Police Association, a separate body comprised of the same members. As of Monday morning, Sheffield said she believed shirts were still available through the association. She has started a petition against the campaign, which has garnered 313 signatures.
The police association did not respond to an interview request from VICE; however, Mayor Bob Sanderson told VICE he believed shirt sales had ceased. The fundraiser didn't go through council, but it likely wouldn't have been approved, he said, citing the major issue as "plagiarism."
"I think moving forward you don't want to take other people's stuff," he said.
Sanderson said he believes the issue has sparked a positive dialogue about racism though."I don't see that in particular in this community. We don't have a lot of ethnic groups here either. We're sort of a small town."
When asked if he could understand why hijacking part of a movement meant to highlight black deaths at the hands of police is offensive beyond just plagiarism, Sanderson said "all lives matter."
"When catastrophe falls upon people who are doing their job, whether it be police, or fire, or emergency workers, our sympathy is much higher," he said. "We do understand they're out there protecting us."
Mathew Lawrence, president of the Port Hope Police Association, told Northumberland Today the campaign is "by no means" connected to any racial or political movement; he also said it's about supporting cops who suffer from PTSD.
"The reality is, all lives matter, no matter the color or job," Lawrence said.
Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Alexandria Williams, 27, told VICE the idea that the fundraiser isn't political or racial is "bullshit."
"It's disgusting… they think they could actually be able to erase a movement that was created because of the violence that they inflict on the black community," she said.
Williams added, "You have blacks who are being killed by the police. There is no remembrance of their body, of their flesh, of their family. When police officers die, they get buried in state."
If the police association was truly ignorant of the significance of Black Lives Matter, she said it should apologize publicly and voice support for victims of racial oppression.
As for the response "all lives matter," Williams said that amounts to saying, "'Shut the fuck up, black people.'"
"No one is saying all lives don't matter, but the fact that black people have to make it clear that we do… we're dying every eight hours out here," she said.
Both Sheffield and Williams said the campaign's offensiveness is detracting from the legitimate issue of PTSD among first responders.
Williams said the fact that the petition was started by Sheffield, a white woman, demonstrates what it means to be an ally.
"Recognizing your privilege… and using that privilege as a stance to stop shit like this from happening, that's the proper use of an ally," Williams said.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.