They should have seen it coming.
The “Thin Blue Line” flag was flown alongside the pro-slavery Confederate flag by white supremacists at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was carried by some Capitol insurrectionists on Jan. 6, when flagpoles actually were among the weapons used to attack police officers.
Close to home, the “Thin Blue Line” flag became contentious last August, after a Chardon High School football player carried it into his home stadium during pre-game activities.
Some people view the “Thin Blue Line” flag as a respectful salute to police officers who put their lives on the line to protect citizens from violent criminals. Others view it as a disrespectful response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that gained prominence in the wake of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, a Black man, in Ferguson, Missouri.
The “thin blue line” is a phrase that has represented the courageous line established by law enforcement between law-abiding citizens and criminal elements for more than a century. But the “Thin Blue Line” flag itself, which is an alteration of the red, white and blue American flag with one blue line amidst black and white stripes, has become a race-based rebuttal to “Black Lives Matter.” In fact, it’s often referred to as the “Blue Lives Matter” flag.
So, it was an absolutely rational decision by Chardon School Superintendent Michael P. Hanlon Jr. to prohibit the “Thin Blue Line” flag from being injected into school activities. While he believed that the football team’s display of the flag was intended as support for local police and that there was no racial motivation for it, Dr. Hanlon recognized its divisive political repercussions.
For some reason, though, the Solon Police Department didn’t see it coming. This past April, just three months after the Capitol insurrection, just seven months after Dr. Hanlon’s letter to the Chardon community and four years after the Unite the Right rally, Solon Police Chief Richard A. Tonelli authorized the “Thin Blue Line” flag to be flown from a flagpole in front of the police station.
The chief should not have been surprised by the reaction from some Solon residents who know all about the “Blue Lives Matter” response to “Black Lives Matter.” But he was.
In explaining the subsequent decision to remove the controversial flag, Chief Tonelli’s letter to the Solon community was as eloquent and thoughtful as was Dr. Hanlon’s letter to the Chardon community.
“For the members of the Solon Police Department, the ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag represents support for law enforcement and those who have lost their lives in the line of duty,” Chief Tonelli wrote. That’s the truth. However, he pointed out, “During the brief time it was up, it caused a divisive and unhealthy reaction within our community. It is unfortunate that the thin blue line imagery has been associated with extreme and dismissive views that are counter to our values …” That is indeed unfortunate. But it’s a fact.
Solon Mayor Edward H. Kraus, who requested the flag’s removal, pointed out that it was “a way of mitigating unfortunate negative connotation that [has] been ascribed to that specific design.” Thus, the decision was made to fly a different flag, one in which the blue line separates a black section above it that signifies law-abiding citizens from a black section below that signifies lawless ones.
I hope that reasonable solution not only shines a light on the value of our police forces but also dims the light on those who co-opt the thin blue line in pursuit of inequality.
As Mayor Kraus and Solon VFW Post 1863 Commander Jack Calvey noted, the red, white and blue American flag should not be altered, even by those of honorable intent.