Blue Lives Matter flags spark discussions of free speech at school

Destiny Gutter, Knight Speak Team

Free speech has never been an easy topic to handle, especially when it comes to the public school system. Loy Norrix Principal Christopher Aguinaga described it as “…a tough balancing act.”
On the one hand, free speech is essential in school and gives students the freedom to say and do what they believe; on the other hand, what one person believes could be harmful to someone else.
Towards the end of February, there was some discourse amongst students and staff as the topic of free speech came to the forefront of our minds when some students started putting Blue Lives Matter flags on their trucks in the parking lot.
These flags caused discomfort amongst some students, mostly because of the controversy surrounding the flag and the black community. Starting with the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, a great amount of attention was brought to the deaths of black people at the hands of police officers.
The Blue Lives Matter motto is also seen as controversial because of its similarity to Black Lives Matter, the Blue Lives Matter movement being born as a rebuttal to the Black Lives Matter movement and even co-opting its slogan and changing it from black to blue.
The question of the severity of the situation was split amongst administration. Vice Principal Alexander Hill said it was just students exercising their free speech.
“Everybody has their own opinion,” Hill said when asked if he felt the situation was of any concern to the school. Hill said he doesn’t believe the flags in the parking lot posed any real threat, sharing a similar point of view as Dylan and Conner Herington, two of the students who had flags displayed on their truck.
Hill said, “I try not to see it from such a negative light.” Hill did suggest that the boys take the flags off of their truck while at school and they haven’t been up since.

On the flip side, Principal Christopher Aguinaga feels that Blue Lives Matter flags are a concern to the student body.
“Doing something like this in a school as diverse as Norrix can be very controversial,” Aguginaga said. While speech that can be interpreted as racist is protected under The First Amendment, there are situations similar to this such as Tinker V. Des Moines in 1965 where students decided to wear black armbands to protest the war in Vietnam and the Supreme Court ruled that public school officials can censor student free speech if it could disrupt school activities or invade the rights of others.
Senior Omar Sanders voiced his discomfort with the timing of the display of the flags on school grounds during Black History Month. Sanders said, “They were trying to intimidate us.”
He wasn’t alone in this feeling. Junior Aujinae Neighbors said, “We didn’t even do anything for Black History Month, and seeing the flags was kind of like taking the attention away from it.”
Both Dylan and Conner said there wasn’t any malicious intent behind it. “We’re flying it to support the police officers down the road and the police officer in the building,” Conner said.
Sophomore Gavin Prolo, who has similar thoughts, said he supports “the idea behind the flag but not what it’s turned into,” referring to the way people use the flag and the controversy surrounding it.

Both students said that timing didn’t play into it and that they didn’t even realize it was Black History Month. Dylan and Conner said they believe in cops flying the flag, and they believe that police officers’ lives do matter, but they don’t agree with the stigma surrounding the flag and what the flag represents for the black community.