Montgomery County did the right thing by declining to display a wooden “Thin Blue Line” flag that was given to police officers as a gift, because the symbol has taken on a controversial cast, Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) said on Monday.
He said Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who slammed the county’s decision over the weekend, should keep his focus on his own challenges.
The flag, which depicts a black and white version of the American flag with a single blue line, was donated to the 5th District police station in Germantown by a resident on Oct. 28, National First Responders Day, police said.
Initially, the county police department accepted the gift, which the agency said was presented by a woodworker, James Shelton, and his son. They tweeted a photo of the boy and four officers.
The county then reversed course, pulling the flag from view. That led Hogan to tweet on Sunday that he was “offended and disgusted” by that decision. Montgomery County’s move has received national attention over the past two days.
At a news conference on Monday afternoon, Elrich told a group of reporters that Hogan “shouldn’t be mucking in” the flag controversy.
“I could spend my time expressing my disgust with him, but I don’t think that’s really useful,” the executive added. “I wouldn’t talk to him about this. It’s a waste of time. The governor should stick with trying to fix the mess he made on the [Bay] Bridge, [and] trying to stop funding on education. There’s lot of things he could spend his time on other than this.”
Elrich called the display of the Thin Blue Line flag “really complicated.”
“The problem is that the symbol of the thin blue line flag has been appropriated by Blue Lives Matter, and there are lots of groups in the community – people who are concerned about Black Lives Matter, people concerned about levels of violence against black people in this country – who take the Blue Lives Matter flag as an affront.”
Several communities around the country have struggled with the thin blue line flag in recent years, particularly since it was carried by participants at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. A counter-protester died at that event after being run over by a car.
The Montgomery County Council will hold a confirmation hearing and vote on Elrich’s selection of Acting Chief Marcus Jones to become permanent police chief on Tuesday. Jones had publicly supported Elrich’s decision to remove the “Thin Blue Line” flag.
As part of an effort to gauge the impact of county policies on minority groups and residents at the low end of the economic scale, lawmakers are also considering a measure that would establish a countywide racial equity and social justice program, along with an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice.
Elrich, a first-term executive who served on the County Council and the Takoma Park City Council, supports that proposal.
He has also expressed concern about a series of highly-publicized incidents involving individual police officers.
“We’ve had a very controversial shooting. We’ve had the woman who gets filmed using language she shouldn’t be using. We’ve got a police officer who’s dropping somebody’s head on the ground. And we’ve had a town hall where many residents came out and expressed concerns about police behavior,” Elrich said.
After Elrich’s news conference, the Montgomery chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police re-released its initial statement condemning “this arbitrary, political action.”
“(We) are especially disappointed that Marcus Jones does not demonstrate appreciation and understanding of the concerns of working police officers,” the FOP said.
The local chapter said it “would be honored to accept this flag on behalf of the 1500 active and retired law enforcement officers of Montgomery County.”
FOP officials said rank and file officers 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.”
But state Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery) said Elrich made the right call.
“Anyone who is paying attention can see that we have deep, systemic issues in Montgomery County in terms of our policing,” she said. “The fact is this flag has been a symbol of a counter-movement in terms of the movement for black lives.”
Over the weekend, Hogan tweeted two photos of himself standing in front of Thin Blue Line flags.
“To outlaw these American flags from being hung in county buildings by law enforcement officers is outrageous and unconscionable,” he wrote.
“We are proud to hang these Thin Blue Line flags in Government House to honor our brave law enforcement officers.”