Mary­land ‘blue line’ flag con­tro­versy misses big­ger point

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - OBITUARIES -

On Nov. 1, Mont­gomery County Ex­ec­u­tive Marc El­rich cau­tioned po­lice not to put the flag on dis­play at the sta­tion in Ger­man­town. It was a pru­dent choice, and the whole thing should have just ended with that, but, alas, it didn’t. The union rep­re­sent­ing po­lice, Mont­gomery County Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 35, is­sued a state­ment an­grily con­demn­ing the de­ci­sion as an “act of out­right dis­re­spect.”

Then Gov. Larry Ho­gan felt an obli­ga­tion to weigh in, as well, tweet­ing that the county ex­ec­u­tive’s de­ci­sion was “out­ra­geous and un­con­scionable,” and the ker­fuf­fle drew the at­ten­tion of the Fox News com­men­tariat, which sel­dom misses a chance to ex­ploit white-black, po­lice-civil­ian con­flicts.

We would like to think this is an iso­lated in­ci­dent, that po­lice of­fi­cers and their unions don’t rou­tinely ig­nore the con­cerns of mi­nor­ity res­i­dents and, frankly, that we might even be a bit more so­phis­ti­cated about this dy­namic in Bal­ti­more. But then we saw the FOP Lodge 3 posted a video on Twit­ter of a group of young, black men singing and dancing in the streets of O’Don­nell Heights with what ap­pears to be guns and money in their hands. The union pointed to this as “what our Cops are fac­ing un­der the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion” (pre­sum­ably Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young) and shot in the af­ter­math of a lo­cal mur­der. Those in­volved with the video have told re­porters the guns were props and it was es­sen­tially a mu­sic video.

Cer­tainly, we can de­bate the mer­its of rap videos that ap­pear to glo­rify “gangsta” cul­ture un­til the cows come home. But that’s not what was in­tended with this tweet. It was meant to pro­mote the “us” ver­sus “them” men­tal­ity that Bal­ti­more civil rights lead­ers have long been com­plain­ing about in po­lice re­la­tions. Do we want a “thin blue line,” or do we want a trust­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the po­lice and the com­mu­ni­ties they serve? The two things ap­pear to be at odds.

These have been chal­leng­ing times for po­lice and the com­mu­ni­ties they serve. It doesn’t re­quire the al­le­ga­tions sur­round­ing Fred­die Gray’s death here in Bal­ti­more (or acts of po­lice bru­tal­ity or mis­con­duct against mi­nori­ties cap­tured on video) to rec­og­nize a ten­sion ex­ists be­tween the men and women who serve and pro­tect and the lo­cal res­i­dents who fear un­fair, heavy-handed dis­crim­i­na­tory treat­ment. Smart po­lice lead­ers are aware of this and work dili­gently to mend those fences and re­store trust. And then there are those who stick their heads in the sand and refuse to rec­og­nize these le­git­i­mate con­cerns.

Is a U.S. flag with a blue line in the mid­dle re­ally all that big a deal? It shouldn’t be. Is the Blue Lives Mat­ter move­ment in­her­ently prob­lem­atic be­cause it’s a re­ac­tion to Black Lives Mat­ter? The ar­gu­ment can be made. The best choice, how­ever, is to fo­cus on the real stuff, not the metaphors.

County Ex­ec­u­tive El­rich had the right idea: Let’s sup­port po­lice by not try­ing to sab­o­tage their re­la­tion­ships with folks who al­ready have rea­son to dis­trust them.

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN 2012 PHOTO

An of­fi­cer’s badge is cov­ered with a sym­bol of a fallen po­lice of­fi­cer, called the Thin Blue Line, at the funeral ser­vice for For­rest E. “Dino” Taylor at the Cathe­dral of Mary Our Queen in 2012.

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