Mass. firefighters say they won’t remove ‘thin blue line’ flags

The town’s chiefs said they appreciate the firefighters’ support of fellow first responders, but the flags now can be seen as offensive

HINGHAM, Mass. — Firefighters in Hingham said they won’t comply with an order from the police and fire chiefs to take “thin blue line” flags off firetrucks, and have asked them to reconsider the decision.

Fire Chief Steve Murphy and Police Chief Glenn Olsson explained in a letter to personnel that the blue and black flags, which are black-and-white versions of the American flag with a single blue line in the center, will have to be removed from where they’ve flown atop Hingham fire trucks after a citizen complaint. Murphy and Olsson say the flags are now in violation of a long-standing town policy that forbids displaying any political messaging on town property.

The flags were originally purchased to show support to the police department after the 2018 killing of Weymouth Police Sgt. Michael Chesna, but have recently “taken a different political meaning,” the chiefs said. The president of Hingham’s fire union, Lt. Chris Melanson, said a non-union member will have to come take the flags down in a statement on Monday.

“At this time, the Hingham Firefighters of Local 2398 respectfully request the town reconsider their decision to deem these flags as political statements. Otherwise, we regret to inform you that over the past four days no member of Local 2398 was able to sacrifice his or her moral fortitude in order to remove the flags from the apparatus,” Melanson said. “As we said before, our support for our brothers and sisters in blue is unwavering. The flags have continued to fly with honor every day. They will have to be removed by someone other than a member of this union.”

The statement called the past few days “disappointing,” and said that the firefighters have received a tremendous amount of support. Melanson said the union stands by an earlier statement in which it said the flag is not political.

“We stand by our initial statement that this has no political message for one reason, and one reason only, because honoring the sacrifices made by the men and women of law enforcement is not political. Period,” the statement read.

The town’s chiefs in their letter said they appreciated the firefighters support of fellow first responders, but that the flags now can be seen as offensive.

“Over the last few weeks, the ‘Thin-Blue-Line’ flags have taken a different political meaning, which might be offensive to some,” the letter reads. “We have always shared a great working relationship with the police department, and they don’t need a sticker, or flag, to realize that we have each other’s back during troubling times.”

Tensions across the country have risen around policing as protesters have called for the reexamination in the wake of recent police killings of unarmed Black men and women such as George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Their deaths have highlighted what many point to as systemic racism in the levers of power in the U.S. Recently, the black and blue flags have been used by “Back the Blue” or “Blue Lives Matter” groups that have formed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to defund the police.

Following Chesna’s death, the flags could been seen throughout the South Shore on flag poles, bumper stickers, T-shirts, windows and more as a show of solidarity. Honoring a fallen officer, and solidarity with first responders, is what flag supporters say they perceive as the original intent of displaying thin blue line flags.

Cindy Chesna, Sgt. Michel Chesna’s wife, weighed in on the Hingham controversy on Facebook.

“People, by way of ribbons, flags, signs and light bulbs turned my town blue to show their respect not only for Mike, in recognition of his sacrifice, but as a way to support all of our brave law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day,” Cindy Chesna wrote. “Part of this tribute included the thin blue line flag which, to this day, is displayed everywhere in my home, on our clothing, cars and in various places of our town and many other towns. The thin blue line flag is not a political statement and does not represent an opposition toward anything. It simply represents the police officer’s role of separating the good from the bad while creating order from the chaos. This is what separates the world from them.”

She said she takes any order to remove the flags as a personal attack.

“Two years later, I am witnessing the complete opposite from a lot of the people who looked me straight in the eyes at (Mike’s) wake and promised to always be there for me, offering anything they could do,” Cindy Chesna wrote. “Now, those same politicians are showing the utmost disrespect to our officers with this reform bill and even a certain town (with the agreement of both the fire chief and police chief) are disrespecting our officers by demanding that the thin blue line flag be removed from their fire trucks.”

She also denounced police officers who abuse their authority and said they should be removed, and that they are the exception not the rule.

Cre: The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

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