Shortly after arriving at school, staff members were told they can’t wear a sweatshirt honoring a slain local hero. They were informed that the message might cause the students to “feel unsafe.”
When Carla Caccavale sought to honor her late father, New York City Transit Police Detective George Caccavale, she decided to commemorate his name by selling and distributing hoodies embroidered in his memory. Wanting to show their respect for his sacrifice, several local school officials ordered the clothing before eventually wearing the gear to work.
However, they had no idea the memorial sweatshirts would soon spark such a controversy. Carla had the hoodies designed in honor of her father, who was murdered by three members of the Black Liberation Army when she was a newborn. The NYPD named one of its police dogs K9 Vale in honor of the slain officer, which prompted Carla to celebrate the tribute by having 13 sweatshirts made with the name and given to fellow family members and close friends.
After the shirts grew in popularity, Carla placed a larger order as a fundraiser for law enforcement charities. When several of the buyers wore their hoodies to work at Pelham Public Schools, they were quickly pulled into the office and informed that their shirts were simply too offensive to be seen and were subsequently banned.
According to the New York Daily News, PPS Superintendent Cheryl Champ issued a district-wide email prohibiting staff from wearing the sweatshirts, along with all pro-police clothing and accessories, because they are considered “threatening in nature” and could make students “feel unsafe.”
“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,” the superintendent wrote. “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.”
Understandably, Carla was incensed, especially when she discovered that the ban solely included clothing supporting law enforcement but not items advocating for opposing political and racial movements, The Police Tribune reports.
“It’s hard for me to explain to my children…why a sweatshirt honoring their grandfather is no longer allowed,” she said.
Superintendent Champ faced a backlash, receiving numerous complaints about her decision to ban pro-police clothing. Along with civilians, NYPD Detectives Union President Paul DiGiacomo called Champ’s response an “obscenity” and accused her of indoctrinating her students by “perverting their views about policing in American or turning your students into cop haters.”
Champ was eventually forced to confront the surmounting complaints. She attempted to quell the outrage by banning all forms of political messaging from staff clothing.
In another e-mail to staff members, she admitted “decisions made last week did not evenly support our ideals of political neutrality” and told them they should not wear any clothing 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.”
However, Champ’s attempt at damage control was in vain. Carla’s sweatshirts sold like hotcakes thanks to being banned. She may also have grounds for a lawsuit.
“The issue is still that a blue line flag is not political,” Caccavale said. “It just isn’t. It’s too late. This was never about politics. It was about honoring my father.”
Carla says that two of her daughters are now afraid to wear the sweatshirt honoring their grandfather because of the school’s indication that its message is divisive. Understandably, this has caused grief for her family.
Disturbingly, the superintendent is indirectly promoting certain ideologies and political movements by suppressing ones she finds unpopular. There are disastrous consequences for both future generations and law enforcement officers in teaching our children that police are to be hated and feared.