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Why Saugus High Football Team's Display Of Thin Blue Line Flag Has Community's Opinion Split

It is daytime at Saugus High. Pictured is the front of the school with a large sign for the school. There is a road and parking lot, and there are some trees surrounding the area.
Saugus High School
(Courtesy William S. Hart Unified School District
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The display of a thin blue line flag during a football pregame ceremony at Saugus High School is revealing the growing political divide in the town of Santa Clarita. Some say the flag is championed by hate groups, while others say it is supporting law enforcement.

On Friday, Oct. 28, a player from Saugus High School ran alongside the field with the flag. It was met with applause and cheers.

Not everyone was pleased with the display, however. Valerie Bradford, the president of the NAACP for Santa Clarita, said the flag intimidated some students.

“It has been adopted by multiple right-wing extremist groups, racist hate groups," Bradford said. "And so when they carried that on the field, there were students that felt extremely uncomfortable by that.”

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The District Had Prohibited The Display A Month Ago

The William S. Hart Union High School District superintendent Mike Kuhlman made a decision a month ago to prohibit the display. In a statement, he said the district supports both law enforcement and fostering a culture of inclusivity, kindness, and respect:

“While many embrace the symbol as simply a celebration of law enforcement, others have shared their feeling that the symbol has sometimes been co-opted by intolerant individuals with an agenda to divide and exclude.”

Both the NAACP president and the superintendent said prohibiting the display of the flag is not equal to being unsupportive of law enforcement. They both point to the November 2019 Saugus High School shootingwhich left two students dead, but many more were saved by law enforcement.

Bradford claims that in the aftermath of the shooting, the flag was not displayed. “[That] flag has not been carried over the past three years… then they only began carrying this flag about two months ago.”

Why Political Tensions May Be Behind The Display

If the flag was not flown when officers acted valiantly, why is it being flown now? For Bradford, it’s the upcoming election and the changing demographics of Santa Clarita.

Political tensions are rising between the growing influx of liberals in a historically conservative community. In 2016, Santa Clarita began to turn toward the Democratic Party as then presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, won the city. President Joe Biden also captured the majority of voters in 2020. From 2010 to 2020, the Black population increased from 2.9% to 4.0%, while the population of white non-Hispanics decreased from 56% to 47%.

For Bradford, Santa Clarita is changing, and displaying the thin blue lives flag was a push by conservatives to rally political support.

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What Thin Blue Flag Supporters Say

Nonetheless, supporters of the display boil it down to supporting law enforcement and exercising First Amendment rights.

Jason Bigger, the father of the player who carried the flag, also spoke at the meeting.

“He carries that flag for a very specific reason," Bigger said. "His grandfather, his father, brothers, are all law enforcement, including several other family members down the line, multiple generations.”

Bigger says his son is the MVP player of the year, peer mentor, and has not been involved in any incidents of racial hate.

Why Others See A Symbol Of Intolerance

But others see the flag as a symbol of intolerance.

Most people attending the district board meeting supported the decision to remove the display, citing negative connotations.

Among the speakers, a military wife, a constitutional lawyer and a former law enforcement officer each made the point that the flag was displayed after racial justice protests and the January 6 insurrection.

Aside from being flown during the insurrection, the flag was flown at the “Unite the Right” Charlottesville rally in 2017, where white supremacist hate groups are blamed for attacking BLM demonstrators, killing one by a vehicle.

“[The students] are intimidated by this flag, and the history of it,” says Bradford, “It’s a flag that was created in opposition to individuals protesting police violence. But it is a flag that has been adopted by racist hate groups.”

Despite heated rhetoric, the board meeting was not all divisive. Keeley White, a community member, recognized the divided opinion on the flag but noted the school has a responsibility to protect all students. “The student body at Saugus is made of members of both of these groups.”

On November 16th, the William S. Hart School District will reconvene to discuss the flag display.

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