To the editor:

Danvers has always thought of itself as respectful and responsive to the needs of our whole community, but recently the community has become embroiled in a debate about the simple “Thin Blue Line” flag. On Aug. 24, without input from the Select Board or the public, the town manager took it upon himself to designate the Thin Blue Line flag as a “political symbol” and ordered it to be removed from fire apparatus.

Before we demand that any symbols be removed, we need to understand the history and origin of each. Input must be heard from all sides. Only then will a consensus remedy to the complaint be valid. Selectmen have always been able to hear a complaint and deliberate and come up with a solution. In this case they failed, because they believed that the appointed employee would make this politically delicate decision for them. Making political decisions should never be the role of a town employee. Those decisions should be left to our elected officials. Specifically, the Select Board, and the members of Town Meeting. Both bodies have the responsibility to represent the values of this town. The removal of this symbol of support for our first responders has awakened a long silent segment of our community. After the Select Board did nothing but affirm the decision of the town manager, we had to act, and demand a Special Town Meeting on the topic. We hope that all Town Meeting members appreciate this opportunity to be heard on the matter and ask them to keep their minds open, their hearts open and their eyes open as we approach the Special Town Meeting on Oct. 26.

The current pandemic and election season have certainly put everyone a bit on edge, but Danvers residents have always been respectful and accepting of many differing opinions and proposals to make the town better for the entire community. Unfortunately, many residents and elected officials have already attempted to distort the truth regarding the Thin Blue Line flag.

One claim is that this flag represents a violation of the United States flag code. Supporters of the Thin Blue Line flag are not insensitive to the flag code’s standards. Flag code applies to United States flags that are bought as United States flags and then altered or misused. The Thin Blue Line flag is not a United States flag. The design may be similar, but that does not make it a United States flag. Research the flags of Liberia, Malaysia, Togo, or even the Bikini Atoll and you will find flags that are very similar to the United States flag, but that does not make them United States flags.

Another claim is that the flag has become a “political symbol” because it has been used in hate speech, and by extreme groups, but so has the American flag and practically every other flag. The use by these groups has absolutely nothing to do with law enforcement nor how police officers use or feel about the flag. In order to make the argument that the flag is now suddenly somehow biased because it has been occasionally hijacked by a hate group, one would have to similarly concede then that Black Lives Matters is also a hate group, based upon the actions of a minority of its members. Neither of these positions are true. The new generation of aggressive hatred for, resentment of and devaluing of the American police officer has attempted to insinuate that there is some malice, bias, or racism behind this symbol. If someone raises a Thin Blue Flag it does not mean they condone hate speech and extremists, but instead, the complete opposite. It means that they want to display honor and respect for our first responders. The public will never get to know what was in the heart of the person that placed this flag on the back of the fire truck. We choose to believe that there was only love and respect for first responders, and not an ounce of hate or disrespect for anyone else.

Police have built “bridges of trust” with the communities they serve, yet law enforcement officials are quickly becoming their own marginalized group. We ask that people remember that police officers are often the first call you make when tragedy comes into your life. Every day, thousands of police officers are sent to help us in the darkest moments of our lives. They are often the first, and sometimes the only, source of consolation when we are looking to make sense out of the senseless. They are often asked to perform miracles when the worst has happened. They are that thin line between tranquility and chaos, between clarity and confusion, and sometimes literally that thin line between life and death. It is that thin line that is referred to as the Thin Blue Line. Demonstrating respect for this group should not diminish nor somehow reduce the respect and support for so many other groups that are seeking to make positive change. Intelligent people should have space in their hearts and minds to support the positive efforts of Black Lives Matter, support the positive efforts of the LGBTQ community, support the positive efforts of the Anti-Defamation League and support the positive efforts of our law enforcement community. This is not a zero-sum game, there must be space for all and there needs to be demonstrated respect for all, and that is what we are calling on Danvers Town Meeting to do.

The vote that will happen at the Oct. 26 Special Town Meeting is an opportunity for the Town Meeting body to restore respect for our first responders, but it is also more than that. It is an opportunity for the Town to act as a model for other cities and towns around the country that dignity and respect toward first responders is right and just. This demonstration of support is not opposed to the good intentions of so many other groups that show support for the marginalized. We believe Danvers should be fully inclusive and this is an opportunity for Danvers Town Meeting members to demonstrate that.

Danvers Town Meeting has always been a bastion of democracy and it will be asked to re-affirm our responsibility to our residents. We must “Restore Respect for Our First Responders” and decide to authorize the use of the Thin Blue Line flag on our fire apparatus.

Rick Bettencourt

Town Meeting Member

Dana Michael Hagan

Town Meeting Member and retired police officer with 42 years of service

Keith Lucy

Former member of the Board of Selectmen

Jon Mattarocchia

Town Meeting Member

Mark Zuberek

Town Meeting Member and former member of the Board of Selectmen

Citizens to Restore Respect of First Responders in the Town of Danvers

 

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