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Citizen complaint forces fire department to remove ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag from engines

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Courtesy: Hingham Firefighters Local 2398

Mary Whitfill

The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

A recent citizen complaint over the display of “thin blue line” flags atop fire trucks in town have led to their removal, Fire Chief Steve Murphy and Police Chief Glenn Olsson told personnel this week.

In a letter to employees, the pair explained 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 for the last two years. The flags were originally purchased to show support to the police department after the killing of Weymouth Police Sgt. Michael Chesna, but have recently “taken a different political meaning,” the chiefs said.

“We condone displaying the flag for that purpose and thank the members of the Hingham Fire Department for showing their respect for their public safety co-workers,” the letter said of the flags’ original intent. The decision was made almost two years to the day since Chesna’s death .

Recently, the black and blue flags have been used by “Back the Blue” or “Blue Lives Matter” groups that have formed in response to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has again gained momentum in response to the police killings of several unarmed Black Americans, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

Following Chesna’s death, the flags could been seen across the South Shore on flag poles, bumper stickers, T-shirts, in windows and more as a show of solidarity. That honoring of a fallen officer, and solidarity with first responders, is what many perceive as the original intent of the flags.

Want news like this sent straight to your inbox? Head over to PatriotLedger.com to sign up for alerts and make sure you never miss a thing. You pick the news you want, we deliver.”People put their own meanings on things and they take on a life of their own,” Braintree Police Chief Mark Dubois said. “From my understanding, that flag is intended to honor those who’ve fallen in the line of duty, people like Sgt. Chesna.”

Earlier this month, around the two year anniversary of Chesna’s July 15 death, an anonymous person placed roughly 500 small, thin blue line flags on Braintree’s town common near town hall. The flags spelled the words ‘Thank You,’ Dubois said. After talking with the mayor, the flags were moved from town hall to the Braintree Police Department property, where there is a memorial for fallen officers.

“We didn’t know who did it, but obviously we appreciate the support,” Dubois said.

Now that the flags are associated with such a political topic, Murphy and Olsson say they’re in violation of a long-standing town policy that forbids displaying any political messaging on town property.

“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.”

Dubois said he doesn’t think there have been any complaints about the small flags on the police department property, and said they’ve had “quite the opposite” response from residents for the last few months.

“We’ve had a tremendous about of support,” he said. “We’ve continuously had donors drop off lunch, thank you cards, all of that kind of thing. We appreciate it.”

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©2020 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

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