What’s a Mourning Band? Definition & How to Wear One

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Mourning is an experience most people will go through in life. When someone close passes, it's natural to face a period of struggle and pain.

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During times of sadness and mourning, it's normal for somebody to let others know how they feel. This expression isn't merely a way of calling attention to their pain. In various cultures, public mourning is a sign of respect for the dead. Some forms of public mourning can even be a way to respectfully express condolences

Public mourning can involve a range of acts and practices. In some cultures, wearing clothing of a particular color after death is an act of public mourning. Wearing symbols of mourning is a similar practice.

A mourning band is one symbol of mourning that you may have seen without necessarily knowing what it is. If so, this guide should answer some of your questions on the topic.

What Are Mourning Bands?

Mourning bands can come in several shapes and sizes. A basic mourning band is simply a garment or accessory that someone wears around a part of their body or on an important part of a uniform.

That said, in the United States, most people familiar with the idea of mourning bands consider them to be the black bands that law enforcement officers sometimes wear around their badges. When a fellow officer passes in the line of duty, officers will wear black mourning bands around their badges for some time following their death.

Officers who wear such mourning bands are usually members of the same department as those who lost their lives. However, this is not always the case. Further down, this guide will touch on circumstances when it may be appropriate for a law enforcement officer to wear a mourning band despite not having served directly alongside the fallen officer whose death they are mourning. It will also cover the length of time officers wear mourning bands following a passing.

When Did Mourning Bands Get Their Start?

Law enforcement agencies and officers were not the first groups to wear some form of a mourning band. Although there is no official consensus on the subject, many believe formally wearing mourning bands began sometime around 1770 in England. 

When the practice first began in England, men and boys typically wore mourning bands. The original mourning bands were black armbands that some would wear around their arms to indicate they were commemorating the loss of a close loved one, fellow soldier, or other such individuals.

When the practice first began in England, men and boys typically wore mourning bands. This may be because women in mourning during this period already wore certain types of clothing and thus did not need to wear mourning bands, as their attire already expressed that they had lost someone close.

This practice influenced other groups in various ways. For example, players will wear black armbands when fellow players or coaches have passed in some sports. 

Black armbands have been used as a means of protest as well. For example, in 1965, some students who opposed America’s involvement in the Vietnam War arrived at their schools wearing black armbands to express their views silently.

It remains unclear exactly when or where police officers decided to engage in the practice of wearing mourning bands when fellow officers have died. Likely, this practice developed naturally and organically, given that wearing black armbands as a sign of mourning had been common among various other groups for centuries.

What Groups Typically Use Mourning Bands?

Again, in the US, the term mourning band usually refers specifically to the bands that law enforcement officers wear around their badges when officers die in the line of duty. Thus, we tend to associate mourning bands with local police forces and various other law enforcement agencies.

However, different groups may wear other forms of mourning bands (again, which often take the form of black armbands). The practice is common among cricket and association football (soccer) players.

Informal protest or activist groups also may choose to wear mourning bands. They may do so in the aftermath of an individual’s death if they believe said death represents an act of injustice, or they may do so to mourn the deaths of entire groups, such as minority groups or civilian casualties of war.

Along with law enforcement officers, members of other groups who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public may sometimes wear mourning bands. They may not always perfectly resemble the mourning bands that law enforcement officers wear, but they have the same meaning. For instance, sometimes firefighters and emergency medical services providers wear their versions of mourning bands. Members of armed forces throughout the world may do so as well.

What’s the Etiquette Around Mourning Bands?

There are no official rules regarding how one should wear a mourning band. However, there are guidelines most police officers and departments generally agree upon. They include the following:

  • An officer should wear a mourning band when an active-duty officer within one’s department loses their life in the line of duty.
  • Officers from the same department as the deceased wear mourning bands for 30 days from the time of their fellow officer’s death.
  • Any law enforcement officer attending a police officer’s funeral if they were killed in the line of duty should wear a mourning band on their badge (if their badge is on display, whether they are in civilian clothing or a uniform) regardless of whether the officer whose funeral they are attending was a member of their department. They are to remove the mourning band when the funeral is over.
  • Officers should wear mourning bands when an officer from a nearby jurisdiction loses their life in the line of duty. They begin wearing mourning bands on the date of the officer’s death and do not remove them until after said officer’s burial.
  • Officers are to wear mourning bands on May 15, National Peace Officers Memorial Day.
  • Officers should wear mourning bands on the day of a memorial service for members of their department who passed in the line of duty.
  • A sheriff, chief of police, or similar authority (such as an agency director) can also instruct officers under their command or within their agency, precinct, or jurisdiction to wear mourning bands on days when they feel doing so is appropriate. Officers are to comply with this directive.

Again, these are basic guidelines by which many agencies and officers should abide. However, some choose to modify them according to their preferences.

If you’re an officer who is unfamiliar with your department’s guidelines, feel free to ask your superiors for more information on this topic. They will likely appreciate the fact that you take the matter so seriously.

You should also make a point of inquiring with those who could provide helpful insights if you’re a civilian considering wearing a mourning band of some form after a law enforcement officer’s passing. This is particularly important if you are thinking about wearing a black armband or similar item to the funeral of a law enforcement officer.

Perhaps you’re attending the funeral of an officer you knew, and you want to show respect to the other officers at the funeral by wearing your own mourning band. Your intentions may be good, but some law enforcement officers tend to consider mourning bands a special symbol of collective solidarity that reminds them they belong to a unique fellowship.

Before deciding to arrive at a funeral wearing something like a mourning band, try to contact the other officers who served with the deceased to confirm whether this is the best way you can honor them and their fallen comrade.

Note: For more general information about proper etiquette after someone dies, check out our guide on what to wear to a funeral. Remember that appropriate funeral attire can vary depending on factors such as a person’s religion, ethnicity, etc.

If you’re unsure what to wear to the funeral of someone whose culture is different from your own, our blog offers many articles on funeral etiquette for numerous cultures that may prove helpful. Read them to help yourself feel more comfortable with your behavior and etiquette at a funeral.

How Do You Wear a Mourning Band?

A mourning band should fit tight on an officer's badge. An officer will wear a mourning band across the middle for most badge shapes.

However, some badges are star-shaped, making a mourning band worn around the middle of a badge impractical. In these instances, the common recommendation is that a mourning band be in the "11 to 5" hand positions of a clock. The ideal mourning band is also no more than half an inch thick.

It's also worth noting that some recommend adding a variation of a mourning band to a department's vehicles if those vehicles display images of badges. Its placement on the vehicle should mirror the placement of a mourning band an officer would wear on their badge. To simulate the appearance of a mourning band, it's best to use black electrical tape.

Mourning Bands: Honoring Those Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

Law enforcement officers put themselves at risk to keep others safe. When they lose their lives in the line of duty, those who serve with them naturally want to honor the sacrifice they made. Wearing mourning bands has long been a common way they’ve come together to do so.


Sources:
  1. “Mourning Band Protocol.” Officer Down Memorial Page, The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc., Odmp.org
  2. Sunam, Ashim. “History of black armbands and its use in sports including football, cricket among others.” International Business Times, International Business Times, India Edition, 15 December 2016, Ibtimes.co.in

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