Small Town Ignites Big Debate
Written by Molly Hale // Illustrated by Stefany Belasic
How the Chardon High School football team sparked controversy among students, alumni and community members
On Friday, August 28, the Chardon High School football team ran onto the field for their pre-game display with a Thin Blue Line flag. They decided to fly the flag in support of one of their coaches who works in law enforcement. This sparked outrage among students, alumni and community members who felt that this action represented views that they do not stand behind. Many spoke out on social media or sent emails to the Chardon administration asking that a statement be made about the situation.
Three days later, the Chardon superintendent, Dr. Michael Hanlon, published a letter stating that the administration was unaware of the pre-game plans. He also said that “school district policy does not permit engagement in political activity.” Hanlon went on to say that the flag would not be part of future events because the school district understands how the display can be interpreted as politically motivated. This statement sparked its own outrage among students, alumni and community members who feel the Thin Blue Line flag is not a political statement.
While the creator of the Thin Blue Line flag has stated that it originated solely in support of law enforcement, the flag became popularized by the “Blue Lives Matter” countermovement created in response to Black Lives Matter and the belief that Black Lives Matter is anti-police.
When the “Blue Lives Matter” movement was created, its main goal was to have the killing of a police officer categorized as a hate crime, which has been successful in Louisiana and considered by a handful of other states. Many believe this to have harmful consequences, as the term “hate crime” is generally reserved for crimes motivated by factors such as race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
A prominent argument against categorizing the killing of a police officer as a hate crime includes the fact that one’s job can never hold the same significance as one’s race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. This is because a police officer can remove their uniform to escape criticism, but a person can never remove one of their permanent characteristics, such as race. Another prominent argument is that members of minority groups have always had an uphill battle when fighting for the same rights and general respect as the majority, while law enforcement has always been acknowledged with respect.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Thin Blue Line flag has been flown in opposition to Black Lives Matter, notably at “Blue Lives Matter” protests and alongside Confederate flags, which are commonly used by white supremacist groups. This serves as a slap in the face to those that are fighting against police brutality, which is disproportionately high among the Black population. In flying the Thin Blue Line flag, a person turns their back on the history of systemic racism that America was built upon.
By flying the Thin Blue Line flag, Chardon High School football aligned themselves with anti-Black Lives Matter groups and made a political statement, whether they intended to or not. Because the high school football team is one of the things Chardon is most well-known for, the pre-game display made a political statement for the entire town, which seems to be what created such an intense response from those that did not agree with the display.
Supporting law enforcement is welcome, but choosing to show support with a flag that has become a symbol of offensive groups is not.
People that believed the team did not understand the political statement they were making explained how the display could be interpreted as racially motivated. Those that also did not want to be spoken for by a pre-game display asked the administration to make a statement and work toward positive change in the future.
One thing that opponents of the display emphasize is that the support of law enforcement is not what creates such an intense reaction, but rather the way the Chardon High School football team chose to show their support. Black Lives Matter supporters are not anti-police, they are anti-police brutality. Supporting law enforcement is welcome, but choosing to show support with a flag that has become a symbol of offensive groups is not.
When showing support for law enforcement officers, look to do it in ways that are not associated with discriminatory views. Great ways to show support are moments of silence, thank you letters or gift baskets. If you are unsure how your display of support for someone will be received, look into its history to make sure it isn’t harming someone else.