US police officers disparage black movements since the 1960s with a “thin blue line”. The symbolism has also found its way to Germany. The Ministry of Finance is now putting it on a collector’s coin.
Is it intentional or is the Ministry of Finance simply unaware of the controversy surrounding extremist narratives in the police? According to the ministry’s website, the German government has decided to have a 10-euro collector’s coin “Police” minted and to issue it in May 2024. On it’s reverse, six policemen are depicted posing with a defusing robot, on horseback, on a motorbike or with a German shepherd dog, among other things.
A plastic ring in the colour cobalt blue is embedded in the coin. It thus joins the various devotional items that can be ordered on the internet under the “thin blue line” and have triggered a debate about extremism also in German police authorities.
The line symbolism is supposed to describe a community of destiny and probably has its origins in a battle in the Crimea in 1854. At that time, Scottish soldiers dressed in red stopped an attack by Russian invaders, from which the narrative of a “thin red line” emerged. With increasing demonstrations against racial segregation, the blue variation became widespread among police in the USA a century later.
However, the “thin blue line” only became popular in the USA with Black Lives Matter in the 1960s. Right-wing officers responded to these protests against police shootings of Black people with a “blue lives matter” campaign, wearing patches, lapel pins or flags with the dark blue line. Around the same time, the “thin blue line” made its way to the police in Germany, including on Facebook or Instagram under the hashtag #InstaCops.
German police officers who order products with a “thin blue line” or other items on the internet want this to be understood as a sign of solidarity and recognition of injured and killed colleagues. But many also see it as a “front line against society’s slide into violent chaos”, writes the Berlin Senate in its answer to a parliamentary question. According to the Senate, the symbolism is also “used in right-wing contexts” and is therefore “particularly unacceptable in connection with service uniforms”.
An elaboration by the Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigation from 2021 is even more critical, stating that the “thin blue line” is associated with a “symbolic content that is partly historically justified, but also stems from its appropriation by extremist circles”. Caution is “absolutely necessary” when using it, and it is “not entirely unproblematic” even outside the service.
Time and again, German officers have nevertheless displayed the symbolism in public. For example, the police in Kiel illuminated their 4th precinct with a blue line at Christmas two years ago. The police in Mannheim posted a poem on Facebook “Together we stand up for each other, stand together, on the ‘thin blue line’”. Police officers from various federal states repeatedly attract attention with patches with the symbolism, which could be ordered on the merchandise website “Polizist=Mensch”, among others, until it was closed down. The federal executive of the police union also had patches produced under the motto “Take a stand”, but distanced itself from them after the police murder of the US-American George Floyd.
The Ministry of Finance does not want to know anything about all this. The blue colour ring in the coin “Police” has no relation to the “thin blue line”, a spokesperson told “nd”. The question of whether there had been discussions during the design of the coin about possibly having created a right-wing collector’s item is not answered.
The coin is the third issue in the series “In the Service of Society”, which was issued after the Corona epidemic a year ago for profession groups “that are indispensable for the functioning of our society and the life of every individual”. The first “Care” coin appeared in May 2022 with a green colour ring, to be followed in two months by the red-decorated “Fire Brigade” coin.
The fact that the “polymer ring coin” issued in 2024 will come in cobalt blue is due to an EU decision taken in 1998, according to the Ministry of Finance. At that time, the member states had agreed to equip their police forces in the colour blue, which had been used by the majority until then. Designing the police coin with a blue blob instead of a round line was obviously not even an option for the German government.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: The coin “Police” (Ministry of Finance).