The new superintendent of the Milwaukee House of Correction (HOC) has banned the use of the thin blue line, an image that shows support for law enforcement, calling it a "white supremacist" symbol.
"Displaying white nationalist symbols, slogans or other identifying iconography on clothing, supplies, coffee mugs, masks etc. is not permissible at the HOC," HOC superintendent Chantell Jewell said in an email to staff last week. "It has been brought to my attention that there were shirts and mugs distributed to staff that have a Spartan's Helmet and a flag with a blue line through it. Both symbols have been adopted by white supremacy groups. These symbols are inappropriate and threaten the integrity of the HOC."
The "thin blue line" is reference to law enforcement officers themselves, who serve as the line between societal and order. Originally a play on "The Thin Red Line," a contingent of British soldiers who held off a Russian attack during the Crimean War, the phrase "thin blue line" referring to police officers was believed to have been first used in 1922. An black and white American flag with a single blue stripe has served as the symbol of the Blue Lives Matter movement since it was first formed in 2014.
The Spartan helmet is often accompanied with the Greek phrase "molon labe," which translates to "come and take them." The phrase was spoken during the ancient Spartans' defense of their homeland during the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. When the invading Pesians demanded that the badly outnumbered Spartans lay down their weapons, Spartan King Leonidis responded with "molon labe." The phrase and Spartan helmet have since become symbols of Second Amendment supporters, who often use the phrase to government officials who propose gun confiscation.
Memorabilia combining the Spartan helmet and the blue line flag is sold at retailers across America, including Amazon, which famously bans merchandise that it considers to promote white supremacy.
"If you are in possession of these items, you should discard them or remove them from the HOC premises immediately," Jewell wrote. "Moving forward any symbols that will be used for items distributed to staff will need to be approved by HOC Administration."
Earlier this month, Jewell banned the use of the term "inmates" to describe the HOC's inmates.
"Effective immediately, House of Correction staff are directed to use terms both verbally and in writing that are humane and create a culture of mutual respect," she wrote in an April 8 memo obtained by "The Dan O'Donnell Show." "Instead of Inmate, Offender, Prisoner, Parolee, Criminal, [or] Convict," the memo requires HOC staff to call an inmate "Their Name, Resident, Person in Custody, Individual in Custody, [or] Incarcerated Individual." A "Detainee" must now be called a "Person in Immigration Detention," and an "Illegal Immigrant" is now a "Person Without Lawful Status."
Jewell was appointed HOC superintendent by Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley in October.