Montgomery County executive defends decision to prohibit ‘thin blue line’ flag

On Monday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich defended his decision to prohibit 5th District officers in Germantown from displaying a “thin blue line” flag gifted to police

“He’s entitled to his opinion and I don’t agree with him,” Elrich said of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, but Elrich also told reporters at the time his decision was “absolutely the right thing to do.”

DOWNLOAD: The FOX 5 DC News app for local breaking news

Hogan blasted Montgomery County leadership Sunday calling the decision that forced the removal of a “thin blue line” flag from a county police station “disgraceful” and “outrageous.”

Here’s the backstory: Bill Byrne, a woodworker who lives just outside of Chicago, wanted to do something to honor first responders. So he made a flag and gave it to local firefighters. It ended up spurring a movement called “The Makers Challenge." Byrne encouraged other woodworkers across the country to do the same thing. Many of them posted about their own flags using the hashtag #makersneverforget on Instagram.

RELATED: Gov. Hogan blasts 'terrible decision' banning 'thin blue line' flag from Montgomery County police station

“The intent was one thing – to support first responders. That’s it,” Byrne said Sunday night. “We’re not trying to make a political stance by making a blue line flag or a red line flag, we’re simply showing support to the people that when you need them, they’ll come first.”

There hadn’t been any problems – not a single one – that is, until a woodworker named James Shelton made a thin blue line flag for Montgomery County Police. While the officers initially posted a message thanking Shelton on social media, several comments rolled in from people who opposed the flag.

“This flag, the symbol of “Blue Lives Matter,” excuses police violence against black residents, and mocks those who affirm that #blacklivesmatter,” one commenter said.

“Look, I think this is really complicated … it all depends on how you look at the flag and I tried to capture that in my first press release,” said Elrich on Monday, “the problem is the symbol of the ’Thin Blue Line’ flag has been appropriated by Blue Lives Matter and that there are lots of groups in the community — people concerned about Black Lives Matter, people concerned about levels of violence against black people in this country — who take the Blue Lives Matter flag as an affront and as a flag that represents dismissiveness to Black Lives Matter and what’s happening to black males in this country.” 

DOWNLOAD: The FOX 5 DC Weather app for local weather alerts

Elrich also expressed his surprise at the police department for posting photo of the gift to social media. 

“I’m sorry that this blew up this way. You know my wish, frankly, is that somebody had enough sense before they put out a Facebook or Twitter about it, to think about - is this going to cause anything? I can’t believe that nobody looked at it, didn’t realize that it’s also the Blue Lives Matter flag and not think about are there going to be repercussions for this if we publicize it.” 

County Executive Marc Elrich had released a statement last week, saying in part, “the flag provides a symbol of support to some but it is a symbol of dismissiveness 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.”

That led to Hogan tweeting pictures of similar thin blue line flags hanging in Annapolis. He added that he’s offended and disgusted by Elrich’s decision and said Elrich should apologize.

As for Byrne, he just wants the decision reversed.

“I just hate that the direction of such a good act went to where it did in that region because we did a really great thing, a historic thing,” he said.
A “thin red line” flag was also given to a fire station in North Potomac, which is in Montgomery County. Reached by phone Sunday night, a firefighter said the flag is still hanging and no one from the county has told firefighters to take it down.

Council Member Craig Rice, who represents the Germantown area, would not weigh-in on the flag’s removal.

“That’s the county executive’s position and so he got elected as the county executive and certainly gives him powers to do certain things,” said Rice on Monday, ” … we on the council are focused on doing the day-in and day-out work of supporting our community.”  

He did offer some words in response to Hogan’s reaction.

“I think the Governor needs to focus on things like the current commission recommendations and making sure that the children of the state of Maryland have the funding they need to be successful instead of weighing-in on a debate like this,” said Rice. 

A spokesperson for the County Executive’s Office confirmed they are trying to reach the family who gifted the flag. 

A Montgomery County Police spokesperson confirmed the father has been facing some negative backlash online and that any accusations of this father being a white nationalist are not true.

Elrich said on Monday Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones is reviewing some kind of resolution, but Elrich is staying put in his decision.