A Montgomery County, Maryland executive ordered police to remove a wooden “thin blue line” flag donated by a grateful elementary student for National First Responders Day because he claims it’s “divisive.”
It’s a decision that not only disappointed local woodworker James Shelton and his young son Forest, but also enraged Gov. Larry Hogan and sparked a strong backlash from the law enforcement community.
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. pic.twitter.com/kbAI32xHkY
— Montgomery County Department of Police (@mcpnews) October 30, 2019
“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 Montgomery County Department of Police posted to Twitter last week. “The flag will be displayed in the 5th District Station.”
Shelton told WJLA the project was part of a broader effort by a Chicago woodworker to make and deliver flags to local fire and police departments in all 50 states for National First Responders Day, October 28. Shelton, owner of Shelton Woodworks, signed up to represent Maryland, and he and Forest delivered a second flag with a red line to Montgomery County’s Fire Station 31, as well.
“I wanted my son to be involved so he could see how important it is to give back as well as to help build good character and make a wonderful memory we will always have,” Shelton said. “(My son) was so excited to help and even more so when he helped me deliver them.”
The social media post about the flag at the 5th District Station drew criticism from some online who claim the “thin blue line” flag is racist, and a symbol of white supremacy.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich quickly caved.
The day after the post, he ordered the flag taken down.
In response to this conversation, we wanted to post a note from Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich:
“Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones and I understand the concerns of the community.”
— Montgomery County Department of Police (@mcpnews) November 2, 2019
“In response to this conversation, we wanted to post a note from Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich: ‘Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones and I understand the concerns of the community. 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.”
— Montgomery County Department of Police (@mcpnews) November 2, 2019
“’Under my administration, we are committed to improving police relations with the community and will immediately address any action that stands against our mission.’”
The blowback came hard and fast.
Hogan said he is “offended and disgusted” by Elrich’s decision.
I’m offended and disgusted that County Executive Marc Elrich has prohibited Montgomery County Police officers from displaying a “thin blue line” American flag that was made for them by a father & his young son in honor of National First Responders Day.https://t.co/d8bDTWLgXl
— Larry Hogan (@LarryHogan) November 3, 2019
“I have attended the funerals of fallen law enforcement officers across our state, and I take time to thank them every day for their dedicated service and sacrifice,” Hogan posted to Twitter. “To outlaw these American flags from being hung in county buildings by law enforcement officers in outrageous and unconscionable.”
The governor also posted two pictures of himself posing with two different thin blue line American flags in the governor’s mansion in Annapolis, WJLA reports
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. pic.twitter.com/PmPGzfSSF1
— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) November 3, 2019
“I strongly call on Mr. Elrich to immediately reverse this terrible decision and to apologize to the police and the citizens of Montgomery County,” he wrote.
The flag at Fire Station 31 remains on display in the station with no apparent plans to take it down, while the flag from the 5th District Station is apparently now at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35.
MORE: The father and son also donated a wooden flag to MoCo Fire Station 31 near Quince Orchard High School in North Potomac, Md.
Sources tell me that flag (with a red line) remains at the firehouse.
“Officers are livid about how this was all handled,” one veteran cop told me. pic.twitter.com/lWCj3l99il
— Kevin Lewis (@ABC7Kevin) November 2, 2019
“The working police officers of Montgomery County are highly offended by this act of outright disrespect for them and that flag which represents the sacrifices and dedication of police officers who daily risk their lives, health, limbs and own well-being in service to their community,” FOP Lodge 35 officials wrote in a prepared statement.
UPDATE: FOP Lodge 35 says it would be “honored” to accept the “Thin Blue Line” flag. It also criticized Elrich + Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones.
“Too many have made the supreme sacrifice and we will not allow political pandering by Jones and Elrich to diminish their service.” pic.twitter.com/cpqTRTgDgq
— Kevin Lewis (@ABC7Kevin) November 3, 2019
“Too many have made the supreme sacrifice and we will not allow political pandering by Jones and Elrich to diminish their service. Lodge 35 would be honored to accept this flag on behalf of the 1,500 active and retired law enforcement offices of Montgomery County.”
Montgomery County Acting Police Chief Jones is now working to repair the damage caused by Elrich’s divisive decision, which has taken a toll on the department’s morale.
Jones issued a letter to officers that stated the decision “is not final” but necessary because of “those who distorted the purpose of the flab 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 won department and American police culture in general,” he wrote.
“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.”