If you’ve recently driven down Maple Avenue by Village Hall, you might have noticed that something looks a little bit different. It’s a subtle change, but one that makes a bold statement to the community. A thin blue strip now fills the double yellow line, symbolizing the town’s solidarity with its police officers. You might have also seen this line in other places; it is not just a Ridgewood phenomenon. Blue lines are being painted in towns across the state, including Glen Rock, Wyckoff, and Midland Park. According to Rodney J. Sawyer, the police chief of Mantua Township, “It stands in support of a profession that in recent months has come under fire and attacked as a symbol of conspiracy, cover ups, and accused of racist behavior.”
This perceived attack that Sawyer is referring to stems from the growth of movements like Black Lives Matter that protest police brutality and institutionalized racism in the United States. Black Lives Matter does not claim that black lives have more value than others’ lives, such as police lives, but rather serves to point out that, while all lives do matter, not all are treated with equal respect. However, many people have interpreted this differently, resulting in a Blue Lives Matter movement as a response to violent protests against the police and as a way to promote respect for law enforcement. This tension between these seemingly conflicting ideas has caused much unrest and division across the country.
However, this conflict has not been played out in the town of Ridgewood in that the community has generally positive relations with its law enforcement officials, which then raises questions as to why the Village Council has seemingly taken a side where there is not an issue. Yes, it’s important to express support for our law enforcement, but why do we need to choose a symbol that has political connotations, especially one that is polarizing to people of color? African Americans are a minority group in Ridgewood, which means that they are even more likely to feel alienated when a statement of this type is made. Ridgewood should be a town that promotes inclusion and community, not one that seemingly prioritizes certain groups over others.
Furthermore, whose right is it to make what can be seen as a political statement on behalf of an entire town? The general population was not consulted when the decision was made. In fact, the blue line was not even explained to the people of Ridgewood. No sign or public announcement was made, creating a lot of room for misinterpretation. It was never officially explained the intention was solely to promote respect for the Ridgewood Police, and there were no precautions taken to ensure that the line is not seen as an anti-Black Lives Matter symbol.
Regardless of whether or not the line should be seen as a political statement, the message itself is well-intentioned. As a town, we want our law enforcement to know that we have their backs. However, there must be a better way to show our law enforcement that we care, other than painting a line down the street–a line that wasn’t even consented to by the community. That is not support. Real support is continuing to facilitate positive relations between the police officers and those they are protecting. Real support is helping to uphold Ridgewood values of community and caring so that, at least here, all lives do feel like they matter. We are so much better than a line on the pavement. There is no need to pick Blue Lives over Black Lives, because the two are not mutually exclusive.
Sarah Catalano and Hannah Rigdon
Graphic: Jessica Chang