GERMANTOWN — Members of the nonprofit group Brothers Before Others handed out Thin Blue Line Flags along with coffee and donuts at the Fifth District Police Station in Germantown on Nov. 8 in a show of support for Montgomery County Police (MCP).
The charity’s demonstration comes about a week after Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich decided that a wooden wall hanging bearing the Thin Blue Line Flag should not be hung in the Germantown Police Station.
Thin Blue Line Flags are typically black and white American flags with a single stripe of blue running beneath the stars; they are meant to show support for law enforcement officers.
On Nov. 2, James Shelton and his son delivered a wall hanging with the Thin Blue Line Flag printed on it to the Germantown Police Station. Later that week, the Fifth District Station thanked Shelton and announced on Facebook and Twitter that the wooden flag would be displayed in the station.
The social media posts were met with some pushback from members of the community who felt that the wall hanging has a resemblance to the Blue Lives Matter symbol. One post on social media noted that Thin Blue Line Flags were used during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Noting the backlash on social media to the flag, Elrich released a statement saying that it should be taken down.
“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,” he said.
Since his announcement, local civic groups and elected officials, including Gov. Larry Hogan, have made it clear they do not agree with Elrich’s decision.
Hogan posted photos of himself on Twitter posing in front of similar flags, saying, “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.”
Brothers Before Others also took offense to Elrich’s decision and announced in a statement that they would show their support outside the Fifth District Police Station by handing out Blue Line Flags. They also invited Hogan to join them during their midday demonstration.
Although Hogan did not make an appearance, a small group of people gathered in the parking lot outside the station carrying their own Blue Line Flags and chatting with officers from the precinct.
“Unfortunately, in America, we can’t control who displays what and where that’s the freedom we protect and the freedom that we have,” said Rob O’Donnell to the group of supporters. O’Donnell served as a police officer for 14 years and currently serves as the organization’s director of business and media relations.
“So, because this flag was highjacked in maybe a half a dozen cases over its more than 60-year history doesn’t make it a racist or a white supremacist (symbol). What it stands for is those police officers who put their badges on every day, leave their homes not knowing if they’re going to come home, serve their community regardless of the demographics of that community and do that job day in and day out, they deserve this support.”
O’Donnell went on to say that there is a bond between the community and the police force that serves it and Elrich’s decision threw a wedge through that bond.
“He could have simply said, put it in a nonpublic facing room, put it in the locker room, put it in the gym, instead he came out with a statement saying ‘this is what we want,’ he wanted to put out there his anti-police rhetoric, that anti-Blue Line rhetoric so that he would get kudos from his supporters,” O’Donnell said.
Other participants in the demonstration cited similar issues with Elrich’s decision.
Susie Brown Butler explained that she supports Montgomery County Police 100% and has seen firsthand the stress officers are under because her own father was an officer.
“They don’t get enough support from the public or the government, I think no one appreciates what they do,” she said. “I think (this demonstration) is very important because police officers need to see that there are people behind them; their morale is so low right now, and a lot of that has to do with Marc Elrich.”
She went on to explain that Blue Line Flags are not about the Black Lives Matter movement or the Blue Lives Matter movement, but about supporting the police.
Brown Butler noted that there are good and bad people in every area of life.
“There’s bad apples in every walk of life, there’s bad apples in clergy I mean there have been things that happened in the Catholic church, so are you going to go there and take down the statues of Mary and Joseph? No,” she said.
“There have been some terrible rapes by some illegal aliens, and they happen to be Hispanic, so is he going to go into all the Mexican restaurants in the area and take down everything having to do with their country? No, and he shouldn’t.”
She explained that she feels like Elrich is just “picking on the police department.”
Michael Gugulis, who also attended the demonstration, said that the county executive’s criticism and the anti-police sentiment is completely uncalled for.
“Why would you criticize the flag? Why would you criticize the kid (who made it and) why would you criticize the police? The police are here for everybody, imagine if there were no police, what type of community we would have,” he said.
Gugulis went on to explain that Montgomery County is a fabulous community, one that is very diverse. Still, it comes with a government that “is trying to denigrate and tear our community apart, pit one against another,” he said.