- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2019

Montgomery County’s decision to ban a police station from exhibiting a homemade “Thin Blue Line” American flag has Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan seeing red.

The Republican governor called Sunday on Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich to reverse his “terrible” decision barring the display of the wooden American flag featuring a blue horizontal line, a gift from local artisan James Shelton and his young son.

“I strongly call on Mr. Elrich to immediately reverse this terrible decision and to apologize to the police and the citizens of Montgomery County,” Mr. Hogan tweeted.

Mr. Elrich banned the 5th District Station in Germantown from displaying the pro-police flag, calling it “divisive,” after the Montgomery County Department of Police posted of a photo of the Sheltons presenting the banner to officers for National First Responders Day.

“Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones and I understand the concerns of the community,” Mr. Elrich said in a Friday statement. “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.”

Also known as the Blue Lives Matter flag, the banner has been embraced by supporters of law enforcement. Left-wing groups such as Black Lives Matter and antifa condemn the flag as an emblem of racism, white supremacy and terrorism.

“Under my administration, we are committed to improving police relations with the community and will immediately address any action that stands against our mission,” Mr. Elrich said.

Undeterred, Mr. Hogan pointed out that not one but two Thin Blue Line flags are displayed at the Government House, the governor’s mansion in Annapolis, and tweeted photos of himself posing with both flags for good measure.

“We are proud to hang these Thin Blue Line flags in Government House to honor our brave law enforcement officers,” Mr. Hogan said. “A local elected official prohibiting police from displaying a flag given to them by a grateful child is disgraceful.”

Mr. Elrich made no mention of specific complaints about the flag, but Law Enforcement Today reported Sunday that a longtime county employee demanded the removal of the flag, calling it a “racial hate symbol” meant to “encourage violence against people of color.”

The email reportedly said: “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 racial hate symbol in a County building.”

Montgomery County isn’t the first jurisdiction caught up in the flag flap. The distinctive symbols have been removed in recent years from public buildings in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon after pushback from public employees and other critics.

In April, corrections technician Karimah Guion-Pledgure settled a lawsuit for $100,000 after alleging she was harassed for objecting to a Blue Lives Matter flag hung at an office in Multnomah County, Oregon.

In July, protesters took down a Blue Lives Matter flag at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Aurora, Colorado, and defaced it with anti-ICE graffiti before raising it upside down next to a flag of Mexico.

Dawn Perlmutter, director of the Symbol Intelligence Group, made a distinction between the Blue Lives Matter flag, which shows an American flag with the blue stripe, and the Thin Blue Line flag, depicting a blue line against a black background, a symbol of law enforcement’s role as a barrier between anarchy and order.

“Blue Lives Matter flags are used by law enforcement officers as a symbol of service, sacrifice and solidarity,” Ms. Perlmutter said in a June 15 article in Law Enforcement Today. “They are displayed in commemoration of officers killed in the line of duty and have become popular with the public to show their support for law enforcement and fallen officers.”

At the same time, she said, “Black Lives Matter members have referred to the flag as a terrorist symbol, a new version of the Confederate flag and repackaged Nazi propaganda.”

One reason for the backlash: The flag was waved at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed by a neo-Nazi sympathizer. Thin Blue Line USA later condemned the flag’s display at the white supremacist gathering.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms any association of our flag with racism, hatred and bigotry. To use it in such a way tarnishes everything it and our nation stands for,” said the group’s statement in The Sacramento Bee.

Protesters have burned and stolen the flags at public displays. In January, a Blue Lives Matter flag at a memorial for slain Officer Natalie Corona in Davis, California, was removed at least twice.

“Copwatch chapters have burned the flag at protests and desecrated it in front of municipal buildings,” Ms. Perlmutter said. “Antifa designated the Thin Blue Line flag a white supremacist fascist symbol.”

The Montgomery County Police Department posted Mr. Elrich’s statement banning the display but did not remove its original Facebook and Twitter posts showing the Sheltons and the wooden flag.

“Overall, it’s becoming all the more sad to see police officials and politicians cave to faux outrage over things that people really shouldn’t be getting mad about,” Law Enforcement Today said in a Sunday article. “We here hope to see that flag get displayed within the station to honor our officers that hold the Thin Blue Line every day.”

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