‘Thin blue line’ flag at Montgomery Co. police station stirs up controversy

A handmade flag gifted by a Germantown, Maryland, woodworker to the Montgomery County Police Department on National First Responders Day is drawing mixed reactions from the community.

The flag, which is made out of wood with a thin blue line replacing a white one, was created by James Shelton from Germantown and gifted to the police department. Shelton also created a similar flag with a red stripe and gave it to Fire Station 31 in North Potomac.

Shelton and his young son made and delivered the flag in recognition of National First Responders Day on Oct. 28. The pair was one of 50 woodworkers across the country who worked to create flags that showed support for first responders in their communities.

Shelton’s son posed for a photo with officers and the station agreed to display the flag.

That variation of the flag has also become the symbol of Blue Lives Matter, which was founded in 2014. 

Some view Blue Lives Matter as a direct rebuttal to the Black Lives Matter movement, which began after the officer-involved deaths of African Americans around the country. Others see the group as a way of showing support for law enforcement during times of need.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich on Friday told the 5th District to remove the flag from display.

“The flag provides a symbol of support to some, but it is a symbol of submissiveness 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,” Elrich said. “Under my administration, we are committed to improving police relations with the community and will immediately address any action that stands against our mission.”

Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones agreed, with Elrich and the flag is no longer on display.

Online responses to the image shared by the Montgomery County police has ranged from support to calls for it to be removed.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Sunday tweeted his displeasure that the flag had been removed.

“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,” Hogan said in the tweet.

He called on Elrich to reverse his decision and restore the flag to the precinct.

Flag manufacturer Thin Blue Line USA said in a statement, “We reject the use of our flag in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. We are not a political company, but a company who truly cares about our first responders and stands with them in support of what they do for all of us. The Thin Blue Line flag was created before the Blue Lives Matter movement, and we believe in spreading nothing but positivity and support for our law enforcement.”

Brothers Before Others, a not-for-profit group of active and retired law enforcement officers, tweeted Sunday that the group will be at the police department’s 5th District giving out the controversial flags to active county police officers later this week.

And, the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 said in a statement, “We condemn this arbitrary, political action and are especially disappointed that Marcus Jones does not demonstrate appreciation and understanding of the concerns of working police officers.”

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Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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