NYC detectives’ union outraged over schools banning sweatshirt honoring murdered cop who lived in Pelham

The banned sweatshirt honoring the late George Caccavale, a NYC Transit Police detective murdered in 1976. The thin blue line flag is on the sleeve on the right.

The union representing New York City detectives expressed outrage Monday at Pelham Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ’s decision to ban a sweatshirt that has a thin blue line flag on its sleeve and commemorates the late George Caccavale, a New York Transit Police detective who was murdered in 1976. Caccavale lived in Pelham at the time of his death.

“We are in receipt of, and are absolutely outraged by, your letters outlining your decision to ban any graphic or logo that honors the profession of policing or memorializes members of the service who have been killed in the line of duty,” wrote Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, in a letter to Champ. “At the same time, you’ve decided that the 1960s symbol of a ‘Black Power’ fist is not political, and that listing the names of people who died during the commission of a crime, being questioned by police or while resisting arrest isn’t political, either, and are permissible to wear.”

“Your thought process is, in and of itself, patronizing, ridiculous, demeaning, degrading, offensive and flat out absurd,” wrote DiGiacomo, who said the union was having its lawyers review Champ’s “edict as we believe you have grossly overstepped your bounds by your attempted censoring of personal wardrobe selection, especially since four of Detective Caccavale’s grandchildren are students in your school district.”

(The complete letter is available here.)

The sweatshirt was created as a fundraiser by Caccavale’s children and grandchildren and includes “In honor of Detective George Caccavale” on one sleeve as well as the thin blue line flag on the other.

Champ has banned staff from wearing items displaying the thin blue line flag because it is “perceived by students to be threatening in nature.” The sweatshirt as well as thin blue line masks and shirts were seen on some Pelham Memorial High School staff before the order.

The blue line flag is an American flag with black and white stripes and a blue line in the place of the white stripe below the star field. The flag was created to be a symbol honoring police officers who died in the line of duty, but has been labeled divisive and criticized by Black Lives Matter and others as a symbol of far right-wing groups, according to an article by the Marshall Project, a non-profit journalism site on criminal justice.

Carla Caccavale, who was 20 days old when her father was killed at age 33 and now has the four children in Pelham’s schools, said the sweatshirt also has “Vale” stitched on it because the shirt was created after the New York Police Department used a shortened version of Caccavale to name a K9 police dog to honor her father. All the money raised by selling the sweatshirts was donated to the NYPD Detectives Widows & Children Fund and the Retired Police K9 Foundation, she said.

Champ addressed the issue of the ban in a Nov. 3 email to staff obtained by the Pelham Examiner: “I am writing to clarify my recent decision to ask staff to remove thin blue line apparel while allowing vote shirts with the names of black individuals who had been killed by police to be worn. 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.”

“We have an obligation to provide a school environment where our students feel safe and respected, and are afforded every human dignity, and we have an obligation as a district to protect them from the presence of anything that may be contrary to that goal,” Champ wrote. “It is with this in mind that I decided to ask staff to remove the masks.”

The issue apparently first arose over face masks displaying the thin blue line flag. School district administrative assistant Lois Miceli told News 12 on Nov. 2 that school district officials made her remove such a mask. In an interview with the Pelham Examiner on Nov. 5, Miceli said, “My story is one of many.”

The late George Caccavale in his NYC Transit Police uniform in an undated photo.

Champ did not mention the Black power salute in her email.

A spokesman for the Pelham Union Free School District said the district would have no comment on the letter’s contents.

According to DiGiacomo, George Caccavale, who served 11 years as a transit police detective, was shot and killed during the robbery of a Long Island City check cashing company, where he was working a second job. The robbers were members of the Black Liberation Army who were caught and convicted, he said.

Carla Caccavale said her father left behind a 32-year-old wife, her nine-year-old brother and herself living in Pelham. Her father’s death was later ruled to be in the line of duty, she said.