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NATIONAL VIEW: Thin blue flag shouldn’t be controversial - Odessa American: Guest Columns

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NATIONAL VIEW: Thin blue flag shouldn’t be controversial

THE POINT: The best choice is to focus on the real stuff, not the metaphors.

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2019 2:30 am

Recently, a father and son duo in Montgomery County presented a “thin blue line” flag made out of wood to their local police station in recognition of National First Responders Day. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they simply wanted to do something nice for police and to respectfully recognize that officers risk their lives each day to protect the rest of us from harm. It’s not uncommon to find such flags in police stations across the country. But the image of a flag with a thin blue line — a metaphor for how police man the front line for keeping social order — has also been associated with white nationalists and, by extension, been used to justify police violence against black residents. Such was the case in Charlottesville, Va., when the flag was used (no doubt much to the consternation of police) by white supremacists.

On Friday, Nov. 1, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich cautioned police not to put the flag on display at the station in Germantown. It was a prudent choice, and the whole thing might have just ended with that, but, alas, it didn’t. The union representing police, Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, issued a statement angrily condemning the decision as an “act of outright disrespect.” And it might have ended with that as well (police unions and elected leaders do a certain amount of fussing at each other routinely), except Gov. Larry Hogan felt an obligation to weigh in as well. On Sunday, Nov. 3, he tweeted that the county executive’s decision was “outrageous and unconscionable,” and the kerfuffle made Fox News commentariat, which seldom misses a chance to exploit white-black, police-civilian conflicts. Can President Donald Trump be far behind?

These have been challenging times for police and the communities they serve. It doesn’t require the allegations surrounding Freddie Gray’s death here in Baltimore (or, in some cases, acts of police brutality or misconduct against minorities captured on video) to recognize a tension exists between the men and women who serve and protect, and the local residents who fear unfair, heavy-handed discriminatory treatment. Smart police leaders are aware of this and work diligently to mend those fences and restore trust. And then there are those who stick their heads in the sand and refuse to recognize these legitimate concerns.

Is a U.S. flag with a blue line in the middle really all that big a deal? It shouldn’t be. Is the Blue Lives Matter movement inherently problematic because its very name signals that it was a reaction to Black Lives Matter and that police lives are therefore valued more than black lives? The argument can be made. So why can’t we just set those things aside and work toward a better relationship between police and minorities? The best choice is to focus on the real stuff, not the metaphors. County Executive Elrich had the right idea: Let’s support police by not trying to sabotage their relationships with folks who already have reason to distrust them.

Odessa, TX

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