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'Blue Lives Matter' billboards spark controversy

Activists have organized under the banner of "Black Lives Matter," a response to a police killings. But now a pro-police group has an answer: "Blue Lives" too.

Activists intent on bringing an end to violence against African Americans have organized under the banner of "Black Lives Matter," a protest movement that developed in response to a series of police killings of unarmed black people nationwide.

Now, the Memphis-based branding agency Tactical Magic is rolling out a national pro-police campaign on the basis of a similar mantra: "Blue Lives Matter," according to NBC News Connecticut and other outlets. The Louisiana-based Lamar Advertising has donated more than 300 billboards to the cause, which has so far has spread to Memphis, Tenn., Toledo, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Hartford, Conn.

"We wanted to recognize the local police departments and men and women that put their lives on the line everyday,” Stephen Hebert of Lamar Advertising told NBC Connecticut. “I don’t know how they do it and we just wanted it to be part of the community."

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The billboards includes the hashtag #THANKUBLU, which is also the name of an Instagram account that features of the billboards. The intent of the campaign may be laudable, but the timing and pattern of the message has been interpreted by some as an effort to co-opt, diminish, or damage the significance of the original movement.

Some Republican lawmakers have been accused of similar counter campaigns using the phrases "All Lives Matter," or "Christian Lives Matter." It's a deliberate attempt to tarnish "Black Lives Matter" by turning it into an inflammatory or even hateful anti-white expression, according The New York Times editorial board, which recently called out specific comments by Gov. Nikki Haley of South CarolinaGov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky

“This effort to Co-Opt the Black Lives Matter Movement is totally unnecessary," Scot Esdaile, President of Connecticut’s NAACP, told NBC Connecticut. "We have many friends in the Law Enforcement Industry; and the community and police do not have to be at odds!!! It's imperative that we work together and not continue to fuel tensions!”

The "Blue Lives Matter" campaign appears to be spreading, promoted by police unions in response to a series of ambush killings of police officers. Late last month in Los Angeles, for example, about a hundred local officers joined community members for a flag-waving march through Hollywood. Many of the marchers wore shirts emblazoned with "Blue Lives Matter."

“This is just the beginning of a nationwide campaign,” Jerretta Sandoz, vice president of the 10,000-member Police Protection League, told The Los Angeles Times. “We’ve reached out to police unions in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and many other cities and they are all on board."

She continued, “Now, we’re searching for a unifying catch phrase and symbol that will send this message: Enough is enough." 

That message may have arrived in the form of "Blue Lives Matter."