The decision to forbid the display of a homemade, wooden replica of the ‘thin blue line’ flag, donated to a Germantown police station by a father and son in honor of First Responders Day, sparked controversy in a Maryland county just outside of Washington, D.C. this week.
Montgomery County Police tweeted a photo of the flag after its donation, thanking the father-son team and promising to display it at the fifth district station, but the tweet prompted backlash on Twitter.
The “thin blue line” refers to the position of police in a society as the force, or line, which holds back chaos, and the donated flag is an American one in which one of the stripes towards the center is blue instead of red or white. (RELATED: Police Officer Dies After Shooting Incident Just Outside Of D.C.)
“Is this man wearing a Hammerskins shirt along with a matching tattoo?” one user wrote. “If so, would urge the Montgomery County police to consult the Anti-Defamation League’s database and decide whether hanging an object made by this person comports with department values.”
“Let’s take a breath here people,” the Montgomery County Department of Police replied. “The shirt and tattoo are of Mr. Shelton’s business, Shelton Woodworks. We are appreciative of Mr. Shelton’s flag and it represents support for police officers and first responders everywhere.”
Another user tweeted, “I deeply respect our police and am thankful for their work, keeping us safe. This flag, however, is a known hate symbol and scares me.”
The critical tweets prompted Marc Elrich, the County Executive of the left-leaning Montgomery County, to order the immediate removal of the flag. (RELATED: Montgomery County Named One Of The Worst ‘Sanctuary Communities’ In The US)
“The flag provides a symbol of support to some but it is a symbol of dismissiveness to others,” Elrich said in a statement. “Because it is divisive, the flag will not be posted at the 5th District nor in any public space within the Police Department.”
The move drew criticism from Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan.
“We are proud to hang these Thin Blue Line flags in Government House to honor our brave law enforcement officers,” Gov. Hogan wrote in a tweet. “A local elected official prohibiting police from displaying a flag given to them by a grateful child is disgraceful.”
But Elrich doubled down on his decision.
“The problem is that the symbol of the ‘thin blue line’ flag has been appropriated by Blue Lives Matter,” Elrich told reporters. “There are lots of groups in the community— people concerned about Black Lives Matter, people concerned about the levels of violence against black people in this country— who take the Blue Lives Matter flag as an affront and as a flag that represents dismissiveness of Black Lives Matter and their concern over what’s happening to black males in this country.”
Others in the county were upset at Elrich’s decision, including Maryland Republicans.
“He has a trend of trying to invoke extremism like that,” Alexander A. Bush, Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, told the Daily Caller. “When he was responding rather petulantly to criticism of his sanctuary county policy, the county released a statement saying the criticism [came from]… neonazis. It’s part of the trend to say that if you disagree with us on any political issue, we’re going to brand you as an extremist and a racist. That’s their schtick.”
Bush also expressed concern that the move to ban the pro-police flag would contribute to sinking moral in county law enforcement.
“Police officers feel like they are treated like they are the enemy, that they should view themselves as suspect, they should view themselves as bad,” said Bush. “Police just want to put up a sign that basically says that they value themselves and have pride in what they do, but the county executive is saying, ‘well, no, that sounds like racism, so you can’t be proud of being a police officer, you can’t be proud of what you do, you have to think of yourself as part of the problem.’”
As the Montgomery County Department of Police continues recruitment efforts, Bush worries that decisions like these will impede their ability to fill positions. (RELATED: Officers In D.C. Region Involved In Five Shootings In Past Week)
“When County Executive Elrich admits there’s no bad motive here, no intent, that the symbol does not inherently mean the bad things he’s ascribing to it, what he’s saying is he values preventing inaccurate perceptions more than he values the morale of the police department and their own sense that they are a worthwhile organization and what they do is worth doing,” Bush said, referring to a statement in which Elrich conceded that he didn’t believe the father and son who donated the flag in honor of First Responders did so with “no ill intent.”
“It’s harder for the county police to recruit now. I don’t see why he expects people will want to stay Montgomery County police officers or be Montgomery County police officers,” Bush said. “He’s going to find when we start running out of police officers that this wasn’t worth it, and there are real world consequences to his very political, ideological driven response.”