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Laurel City Council member Carl DeWalt apologies but defends use of ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag at Black Lives Matter rally

District 1 Laurel City Council member Carl DeWalt, left, speaks with former Laurel mayoral candidate Jeff Mills on Sunday before the "Laurel Stands for Justice, Black Lives Matter" rally in Granville Gude Park. DeWalt was booed off the stage when he went to speak holding a "Thin Blue Line" American flag that was designed to show support for law enforcement but has also been used at times in white supremacist marches.
District 1 Laurel City Council member Carl DeWalt, left, speaks with former Laurel mayoral candidate Jeff Mills on Sunday before the "Laurel Stands for Justice, Black Lives Matter" rally in Granville Gude Park. DeWalt was booed off the stage when he went to speak holding a "Thin Blue Line" American flag that was designed to show support for law enforcement but has also been used at times in white supremacist marches. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Courtesy Photo)

When Carl DeWalt woke up on Sunday morning, he dressed in a pink Laurel police shirt, put on a Maryland law enforcement hat and got his black-and-white American flag with the thin blue line ready to wave at the Laurel Stands for Justice Rally and March at Granville Gude Park.

The Laurel City Council member and 28-year veteran of the Laurel Police Department never expected the reaction his presence would cause.

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“When I got there, you would have thought I had a KKK flag,” DeWalt said. “I had a very young lady start literally screaming in my face.”

For DeWalt, the flag he carried represented the thin line between chaos and disorder that police straddle and is also a remembrance of the police officers killed in the line of duty.

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For many in the crowd of more than 2,000, the flag was seen as a symbol of white supremacy, carried alongside Confederate flags at the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. When DeWalt was called to the stage to explain himself, the crowd booed him off before he could respond.

“I thought everyone knew what the flag was,” DeWalt said. “Apparently not.”

After the city received numerous emails and concerns about DeWalt’s actions, DeWalt admitted during Monday’s City Council meeting that he may have been “insensitive” and should have shown more “compassion and support” for the high school students who organized the event. He then issued a "sincere apology to anybody who was offended by his actions.”

For organizer Carlos Hinojosa, 17, DeWalt’s apologize felt insincere.

“What he did was really uncompassionate and really insensitive, too,” Hinojosa said Tuesday. “His apology ... came across as very insincere based on his wording.”

Hinojosa was thankful that during the rally DeWalt left the stage and that there were no other occurrences.

“I did my best to get the situation under control,” Hinojosa said. “I’m really happy ... we were able to get a hold of the situation.”

During the council meeting, council President Keith Sydnor also apologized to the community and DeWalt for not taking action.

“When I saw council member DeWalt at the rally ... with a flag that I knew wasn’t the right flag for that protest, I did not say anything, when I should have,” Sydnor said. “I should have explained to DeWalt, and then it was his decision whether he wanted to do that or not. I failed in leadership that way.”

Mayor Craig Moe and the council accepted DeWalt’s apology. Moe also stressed the council was working with the police department to make sure they met all the policies for 8 Can’t Wait — a list of eight use-of-force policies designed to decrease police violence. 8 Can’t Wait was developed by an organization called Campaign Zero that is aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Policies include banning choke holds and strangle holds, requiring warnings before shooting, and intervening when a follow officer is violating policy or someone’s rights.

DeWalt said after the meeting that he did not mean to offend anyone and that what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis “made his stomach sick.”

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George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed May 25 at the hands of a white police officer during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. In a widely seen video, the officer, who has been charged with murder, held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he died.

“That guy kneeling on his neck ... that would have never happened in Laurel,” DeWalt said. “We are trained better than that. That guy did not have to die. Who cares what his criminal record was? You can’t treat people like that.”

DeWalt has no plans to stop waving his flag or supporting his fellow police officers. It is important to work with the police for change to occur, he said.

“It’s very sad that they lump every police officer with a few bad apples,” DeWalt said. “That’s not right. That’s not how things are goring to change.”

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