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Blue Lives Matter sign raises red flags during webinar

MORGANTOWN — A video conversation by West Virginia University’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to reassure faculty, staff and students it was doing everything possible to be inclusive became a social media maelstrom Wednesday afternoon when the University Chief of Police displayed a Blue Lives Matter flag in the background.

The flag behind W.P. Chedester was clearly visible during the hour-long video conversation led by Meshea Poore, WVU’s vice president for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The flag, however, was not mentioned until after the conversation was completed.

The Blue Lives Matter flag — an American flag with blue stripe down the center — was designed to show support for police officers. However, as Politico points out in a recent article, “it has also been flown by white supremacists, appearing next to Confederate flags at the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville.”

The article goes on to say that police have worn versions of the flag on face masks while clashing with those protesting the death of George Floyd in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

“I was incredibly offended, in general, but found it to be especially tone deaf and disrespectful in the wake of the last few weeks,” Dan Totzkay, a WVU assistant professor, said in an email to the Dominion Post. “The point of the call was to show how the university is fostering a safe and equitable atmosphere, while at the same time showing its employees and students (who were present on the call) that they do not care.

Regardless of intent, this clearly communicates especially to our Black students, Indigenous students and other students of color that their lives do not matter and they are not welcome here.”

In a statement released by the university Wednesday evening, Chedester said the flag was given to him as a gift.

“For me personally, it has always represented a way to honor the commitment I made as a first responder to protect our community. I understand now that it represents something else to many others; something that I now know was traumatic to some of our community tuning in for our conversation. I sincerely did not have any intent to suggest that police lives matter more than Black lives nor was I intentionally trying to cause any harm or offense,” Chedester’s statement said.

“Sometimes, there are events that occur that open our eyes to things we have not seen before. The horrible killing of George Floyd has made it clear that we have much work to do in our country and in our own communities. Today I saw a symbol through others’ eyes. As a leader on our campus, I will be more conscientious, intentional and thoughtful. As a community, we also need to lead in that direction” the statement said.

But Totzkay’s dismay was shared by many of his colleagues and students.

Wesley Ford, a member of the class of 2020 and a public relations major, tweeted his disappointment.

“It’s quite disheartening to see this potentially impactful conversation bogged down by Chedester’s clear display of the Blue Lives Matter flag, an image inextricably linked to white supremacist iconography. I am disappointed in my university and call on them to denounce this.”

Emily Tingler, a WVU graduate student, said on the West Virginia University official Facebook page that the flag is used in connection to a movement in direct opposition to Black Lives Matter.

“Is this symbolic to where administration and leadership stand on the matter?”

Harley Benda, a WVU journalism student, did not watch Wednesday’s webinar, but said she always had positive dealings with the university police.

“I was a resident assistant at one point and had to call the university police on several occasions,” she said. “They were nice and respectful. … It was disrespectful to put the flag out there, it was probably an honest mistake.”

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