Germantown, MD – The battle over whether Montgomery County police may hang a handmade Thin Blue Line flag gifted to them on National First Responders Day rages on, with the Maryland governor trolling the anti-cop county executive on Twitter.
“We are proud to hang these Thin Blue Line flags in Government House to honor our brave law enforcement officers. A local elected official prohibiting police from displaying a flag given to them by a grateful child is disgraceful,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan tweeted on Sunday afternoon.
Hogan included pictures of himself posing with Thin Blue Line and Thin Red Line flags that have been hung in the governor’s mansion.
The controversy began after Montgomery County resident James Shelton and his young 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.
The thoughtful gift was in celebration of the first official National First Responders Day on Oct. 28.
The Montgomery County police 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 then a county employee got offended and sent a complaint about the flag which clearly demonstrated the person’s lack of understanding about its meaning.
The missive, which Blue Lives Matter has obtained a copy of, carried the header “REMOVE ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Flag From 5th District Station IMMEDIATELY!”
“As a lifelong County resident and thirteen year County employee, I am writing to express my shock, outrage and disgust at the audacity of the Montgomery County Police Department to proudly and publicly display a racist hate symbol in a County building,” the person wrote. “The posting of a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag sends a horrifically callous message to people of color in our county – that they are not respected, valued or protected. The police can pretend that ‘Blue Lives Matter’ is a simple police support group all they want. We are all aware of the real truth: that Blue Lives Matter is a co-opt of an anti-racist slogan that is used interchangeably with ‘Thin Blue Line’ propaganda to spread a racist message of hate, one that is used to inspire fear and directly encourage violence against people of color.”
“I am not surprised that this occurred – police have been a bolstered and protected class within the County for decades, and new leadership doesn’t appear to have changed this fact,” the angry writer continued. “I am writing now not because I expect you all to do the right thing (I don’t have faith in the police to EVER do the right thing, in fact) but because you should be confronted and publicly shamed for this act, and be forced to grapple with whether or not Montgomery County truly wishes to embrace racist hate symbols in public buildings. Whatever MCPD and FRS get up to on their own time is their business – but to display this symbol so prominently and proudly within a public building is beyond the pale.
“Shame on you all,” concluded the rant, which sources told Blue Lives Matter was sent to Acting Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich.
But the Thin Blue Line flag was created long before Black Lives Matter ever existed and the term “thin blue line” has been popular with law enforcement officers since the 1950s.
"Thin Blue Line flags are just flags that express support for law enforcement. They have no direct connection to any Blue Lives Matter organization outside of their original meaning to show support for police,” Blue Lives Matter Editor-in-Chief Christopher Berg explained.
It turns out that the actual meaning of the flag didn’t matter because the county executive decided to prohibit the police department from displaying the Thin Blue Line flag before it even got hung.
The police department shared the news on Friday 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.
Despite the county executive’s assertions that his decision was made in lockstep with the Montgomery County police chief, a note from the chief to his police force indicated that might not be entirely true.
Blue Lives Matter obtained a copy of the email that Chief Jones sent to all of his law enforcement personnel on Sunday.
“As of now, the decision only pertains to the donated wooden flag,” the chief wrote. “This decision is not final as I requested that we take a pause due to those who distorted the purpose of the flag to be a Blue Lives Matter issue versus a Black Lives Matter issue. This is far from the purpose of why the flag was gifted and presented to the 5th District Station.”
“I realize this decision has had a very emotional impact on the members of the department and has raised even more questions as the thin blue line symbol is incorporated into numerous aspects of our own department and American police culture in general,” he continued.
“However, I will be engaging in further discussions with the administration and the FOP about the implications of this decision, the distorted views held by some, on both sides of the political spectrum, of this long-standing symbol and how we will address the concerns that I am hearing from many of you,” Chief Jones wrote.
“I am fully aware of the true meaning of the Thin Blue Line and what it means to law enforcement,” the chief assured his officers. “I have the highest regard for this department, its officers and professional staff. It is vital we maintain our strong professional reputation with the majority of the community that continues to support us.”
He asked the police force to be patient while he worked “to build a greater understanding of the meaning and importance of this symbol to the men and women who tirelessly protect this county day in and day out.”
The same day, the governor started firing off tweets at Elrich condemning his decision.
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.