The family of a Maine police officer killed in the line of duty said it felt forced to remove a Thin Blue Line flag to mark the anniversary of his death after learning of complaints that it was racist.
Trooper Charles Black was fatally shot during a bank robbery in 1964. His son, also named Charlie Black, decided to erect the Thin Blue Line flag, which is also known as the Blue Lives Matter flag and is meant to honor law enforcement. The son placed the flag on a utility pole near his home, prompting some residents to complain that an offensive symbol was on public property.
The town manager of York, Maine told News Center Maine that a resident visited his office to complain about the flag.
“A resident came in and said there’s a problem,” Town Manager Steve Burns said, adding that the resident contended “This is a flag that represents segregation and discrimination.”
He called the family to forward the concerns about the flag. He said the trooper's widow took the news hard.
"This is just ripping a wound in her heart,” Burn said.” It was pure instant emotion for her and her whole family.”
The son, Charlie Black, decided to take the flag down after his mother requested it, and expressed frustration that the effort to pay tribute to his father had gotten mired in a politically-charged debate.
"This is not a racist white supremacist symbol, and I'm angry it's portrayed that way," Charlie Black said.
The trooper’s widow, former York selectman Mary Black Andrews, told the Bangor Daily News that the last thing she wanted was to stoke divisions.
“God forbid we should offend anyone,” she said to the newspaper. “It bothers me tremendously. It’s the anniversary of his death. He gave his life to protect the public, and I gave my life to this town, and we can’t even celebrate this person. I’m sorry I offended them. It’s coming down and it won’t happen again.”
Those who defend the flag say it is meant to do nothing more than honor law enforcement, particularly those lost in the line of duty.
Critics see it as a push-back against Black Lives Matter, a movement to highlight police shootings of black people.
Susan Kepner, president of the York Diversity Forum, said that white nationalists used the Thin Blue Line flag as one of their symbols in the Charlottesville rally that turned deadly.
“It looks just like an American flag but it’s black and white,” Kepner told News Center Maine. “We were concerned about the message that sends. We get along well with the Police Department, and we honor fallen heroes as well as anyone else. We would just like positive messages out there.”
“If people want to hang the flag on their private property, that’s their right. But it could be a can of worms if we allow flags all over town on those brackets.”
York Police Chief Charles Szeniawski said the town does not have a policy about placing flags in places other than private residences.
“There is no policy about flags. Can anyone put anything up there? I don’t know. Maybe it’s something we should look at.”
He acknowledged that the Thin Blue Line flag is viewed differently by various groups.
“It’s how people interpret it,” he said. “For most officers that’s the Thin Blue Line flag. Just because you’re an officer doesn’t allow you to do anything you want. You can’t cross that line. That’s what it means to most of us.”
Earlier this year, debates broke out in Connecticut over the Thin Blue Line flag after it was displayed in the Police Memorial Hall, which is near the state capitol building.
Some Democratic legislators said that the flag could be offensive to Black Lives Matter supporters.
The Office of Legislative Management decided to take it down, but then put it back up.
“In the context of the history behind it, a lot of my members expressed a lot of concerns,” said state Rep. Brandon McGee, chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, to reporters.
“We are not anti-police,” he said. “We support our men in blue, but we also know that given the history around black people, people of color with respect to this particular issue, I just think it was necessary for us to share our concerns with our leadership.”
In April, a county in Oregon agreed to pay a former employee a $100,000 settlement after she sued the county for racial discrimination because a co-worker had posted a “Blue Lives Matter” flag in an office in support of local police.
In her lawsuit, Karimah Guion-Pledgure, who had worked in corrections, alleged that other county employees had retaliated against her after she complained that the pro-police flag was offensive, the report said. The plaintiff, who is black, argued that the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” co-opted the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” and thus denigrated and diluted the original term.
"Some people see that flag is discriminatory or racist," said Burns, the town manager, "and the concern is how do you honor a fallen officer and his memory and how do you not put out that type of message?"
Fox News reporter Dom Calicchio contributed to this report.