Germantown, MD – One Maryland man and his son set out to make the first official National First Responders Day memorable for firefighters and police officers in their district, but the county executive shut down displaying their efforts after anti-police activists complained.
The U.S. Senate voted in June to dedicate Oct. 28 as “National First Responders Day” to honor career and volunteer firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics all over the United States.
James Shelton and his son, Forrest, lovingly handcrafted a wooden Thin Blue Line flag for the Montgomery County Police Department’s 5th District in Germantown and a Thin Red Line flag for the firefighters at Quince Orchard Fire Station 31.
“It was an idea started by a fellow maker in Chicago to have woodworkers in every state to make a flag for their local fire or police depart for national first responder day,” Shelton posted to Facebook on Oct. 28. “I decided to do one for Quince Orchard station 31 FD and Germantown 5D PD. It was truly and [sic] honor to make these and donate them.”
“Forrest helped the whole way and delivered them with me this weekend and I couldn’t have been more proud,” the father continued. ‘He was so excited to help build and even more excited to deliver them. It is a wonderful memory we will never forget. Thanks to all our first responders.”
Shelton posted pictures of him and his son posing with the officers and firefighters and their respective flags to Facebook.
The post, which has since been made private, showed them making the flags and the little boy wearing a Junior Montgomery County police badge and posing with a fire house challenge coin during their visits to deliver the flags to their local first responders.
The Montgomery County police who received the thoughtful gift from the Sheltons were thrilled and tweeted a thank you note with a picture of some officers posing with the flag and the father-and-son woodworking team who created it.
“Thank you to resident James Shelton, who presented Montgomery County 5th District officers with a wooden American Flag that he had made in recognition of National First Responders Day. The flag will be displayed in the 5th District Station,” the Montgomery County Department of Police posted to its official Twitter account on Wednesday.
But not everyone in Montgomery County was gracious about the well-meaning donations.
Anti-police activists slammed the flag gifts on social media, prompting Democratic lawmakers to quickly and publicly shut down the visible demonstration of support for local law enforcement.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced on Friday that the Thin Blue Line flag would not be hung by his police department, WBFF reported.
The police department shared the news in a series of tweets that contained the edict from the county executive.
"Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones and I understand the concerns of the community,” the message began. "The flag provides a symbol of support to some but it is a symbol of dismissiveness to others. Because it is divisive, the flag will not be posted at the 5th District nor in any public space within the Police Department."
"Under my administration, we are committed to improving police relations with the community and will immediately address any action that stands against our mission,” Elrich finished.
A Montgomery County police officer told Blue Lives Matter that officers were disheartened by the county executive’s announcement.
“I feel like they’ve politicized a flag meant to honor officers that have sacrificed their lives for this profession and their communities,” the officer said.
Another officer said he was upset that a gift from a little kid to police had been criticized.
"It's unbelievable an innocent kid can't give a gift without being criticized and having politics getting involved," the officer told Blue Lives Matter.
"He spends countless hours working on it and people like the county executive want to throw it in the trash," the angry officer continued. "What should we do next? Throw away pictures that little kids in school make for the police? It's a sad day for Montgomery County and even worse for our executive."
Anti-police activists have repeatedly tried to claim that the Thin Blue Line flag is a symbol for white supremacists.
But in fact, the “Thin Blue Line” has been popular with law enforcement officers since the 1950s as a show of support for police and as a memorial to fallen officers.
"Anti-police activists routinely make false claims about pro-police symbols to dissuade people from openly showing support for police,” said Christopher Berg, Editor-in-Chief of Blue Lives Matter. "It's cowardly to cater to these baseless claims."
Perhaps in anticipation of a negative reaction from his troops, the Montgomery County Police Department’s 5th District Commander, Captain Mark Plazinski, sent out an email to his officers telling them to keep their heads up.
Capt. Plazinski, who was out of town when the controversy erupted, promised his officers they would discuss the matter more upon his return.
“I know that many of you will be upset by this decision,” the captain wrote in the message, a copy of which was obtained by Blue Lives Matter. “I urge you to remain positive and keep your heads up.”
“I am very proud to be a part of this police department with each one of you,” the captain continued his pep talk. “I am also extremely proud of this profession. As a whole we do great and heroic work on a daily basis. Be strong and be safe.”