Hundreds of people rallied outside Chardon High School, Ohio, in support of the school’s football players, who were told they could no longer display the “Thin Blue Line” flag in future events to show appreciation to law enforcement officers.
The Friday night event was organized by a Chardon man named Eric Downing, who told local WYKC that he was expecting, at most, a few dozen people to show up. Instead, hundreds of locals gathered and marched to Chardon High to protest the controversial ban on the pro-police flag.
The night before the rally, 25-year Cleveland Police veteran James Skernivitz was murdered while on duty. “I think it really hits home why we’re doing this,” Downing said. “You never know, when an officer leaves, you don’t know when he’s coming back.”
The “Thin Blue Line” flag, which many see as an important symbol of support and solidarity for law enforcement, was banned at Chardon Local Schools after a student football player carried one onto the field. According to Superintendent Michael Hanlon, Jr., the player who displayed the flag was doing it in honor of first responders to a deadly shooting at Chardon High 8 years ago, as well as his coach, who is a police officer.
In a statement (pdf) announcing the ban, Hanlon said displaying the flag caused many people to directly complain to school officials, and therefore will “not be a part of future pre-game activities at Chardon athletic contests.”
“Based on discussions that ensued over the weekend, it does not appear that this action was motivated by racism,” Hanlon wrote. “Nevertheless, it is understandable how this could be interpreted as a racially-motivated action and, therefore, not acceptable in a school community.”
Hanlon also noted that the district actually has a policy of not engaging in in political activity. He said the district is working on a plan with the athletic director to review any planned pre-game displays that include “any form of discrimination or particular political views.”
In response, Chardon Police Chief Scott Niehus posted a statement on Facebook, saying that he appreciates the support from the community following the flag ban, but he understands different people see the flag’s underlining tones differently.
“We recognize that the Thin Blue Line represents either the best of, or worst of, what our profession has to offer depending a person’s point of view. We understand that people frame what the line means to them based on a perspective that is unique to their own experiences with law enforcement,” Niehus wrote in the statement. “The officers of the Chardon police department strive to represent the best of what law enforcement officers should be.”
“To us, the thin blue line represents the strength and courage of officers working together as a profession to make our community safe,” he continued. “We certainly recognize that we are blessed to live in a community that graciously supports the stressful job that law enforcement officers do, the very difficult situations that we respond to, and the many sacrifices that are made by our officers and their families.”