NY school district draws flak for banning staff from wearing sweatshirts made by daughter of slain NYPD cop

It was said that the thin blue line flag made people frightened at a time when anti-cops mood is strong, however, the dead cop's daughter says there was nothing political in it


                            NY school district draws flak for banning staff from wearing sweatshirts made by daughter of slain NYPD cop
(Getty Images)

A New York school district has decided to ban staff members from sporting a sweatshirt showing a thin blue line patch to honor a slain officer of the local police department. The move led to a row as the daughter of the officer blasted the decision to ban the sweatshirt which was designed by her. Carla Caccavale, the daughter of George Caccavale who was gunned down in 1976, said her drive had no political aim.

She said she never intended to react against shirts hailing the Black Lives Matter moment or remembering those killed in clashes with cops. The controversy snowballed till the district superintendent was forced to take a step back in the face of the backlash.

“I’m not into politics at all,” Carla was quoted as saying by New York Daily News. “This is not Black Lives Matter versus police. This was never the intent when we created the sweatshirt.” Carla was a newborn when her father, a transit police detective, was killed by three people at a check-cashing store in Long Island City.

Two of the three killers who were convicted later have died, NYPD detectives’ union said, while the third — Claude Holland aged 80 — is still serving imprisonment, according to records.

The idea of honoring the slain cop with the sweatshirt came up after the New York Police Department named one of its K-9 dogs last year after George. The late police officer, who lived in Pelham and was 33 at the time of his death, left behind his wife and two children, including Carla. 

Carla has grown up treasuring her father’s memory and when she learned that a police dog was named after George, she got the sweatshirts made for her family as well as some police officers. She sold the designs to raise money for police charities. 

Pelham Public Schools superintendent faces heat

However, Pelham Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Champ recently wrote to employees informing them of the ban of the flag, saying it has been perceived by students to be threatening and they felt unsafe. Champ sent the email after a number of Pelham schools officials bought the sweatshirts.

In her initial email sent in late October, there was no mention of a ban focusing on any other movements. She elaborated the decision in a follow-up mail dated November 3 saying that the tribute to the police was seen by many as something threatening. 

“I recognize that in these heightened political times, these decisions, which were made on a case-by-case basis, have become intertwined and perceived by some to reflect a political leaning on behalf of myself and the district. Like many symbols whose meaning has been co-opted over time, the thin blue line flag has increasingly been perceived by students to be threatening in nature, causing them to feel unsafe within our schools,” Champ wrote.

A man holds a Black Lives Matter sign as a police car burns during a protest on May 29, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia (Getty Images)

The US has witnessed dangerous race riots spreading throughout the land in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd, an individual of color, at the hands of the police in Minneapolis in May. The police were targeted as Black Lives Matter protests spread and there were calls and moves to defund police departments in various cities. 
 
The buyers of Carla’s creation, which included more than six Pelham school officials, were not offended by the patch, the Daily News report cited her as saying. Carla later found support from the NYPD detectives union. Paul DiGiacomo slammed the decision to ban and wrote to Champ last week saying the ban was an “obscenity” and charged that she was not protecting the students “by perverting their views about policing in American or turning your students into cop haters”. 

Champ's change of tone did not convince critics

Champ, subsequently, changed her tone. In yet another email to staff members, she conceded that the decision to ban “did not evenly support” the ideas of political neutrality. She also told members that they should not wear anything that can be considered political speech, including support for candidates “and social movements such as those represented in our schools last week on T-shirts and masks.”

Champ added that the ban didn’t extend to students. On Friday, November 13, the district said in a statement that the issue was never about supporting cops. “This was specifically about disallowing staff attire displaying symbols considered to have political meaning, including, but not limited to the blue line flag,” it said.

However, neither Carla nor DiGiacomo were convinced with the retreat. While the former said the issue was not political but about honoring her late father and felt the U-turn was “too late”, DiGiacomo said Champ did the U-turn because she was wrong. 

The duo also found the backing of Det Paul Roberts, president, Pelham Manor Police Association and Jeff Carpenter, Pelham Chief of Police. Both of them wrote letters of protest to Champ.

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