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.