CHARDON, Ohio — The group representing "25,000 Ohio law enforcement officers" is asking the Chardon school district to reverse its ban on the "Thin Blue Line" flag.
In a letter sent Thursday to Superintendent Dr. Michael Hanlon Jr., Ohio Fraternal Order of Police President Gary Wolske called the district's decision to ban the use of the flag "ill-considered" and denied it was in any way racist. Furthermore, Wolske also questioned why "the feelings of one class of people is (sic) more valid than the free speech rights of another class of people."
"The 'Blue Line Flag' is used as a sign of support for law enforcement," he wrote. "There are also red line flags in support of fire, yellow line flag for dispatchers, white and blue for EMS, red and white for nurses, and green or camouflage for military."
The Chardon school board made the decision to ban the flag's use at athletic and other events earlier this week after a Hilltoppers football player carried the flag onto the field prior to last Friday's game. Although Hanlon said "it does not appear that this action was motivated by racism," he admitted "it is understandable how this could be interpreted as a racially-motivated action and, therefore, not acceptable in a school community."
The Thin Blue Line flag has come under fire in recent months following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (both Black) at the hands of white police officers. The controversy gained even more steam following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, and several communities and even some police departments across the country have sought to distance themselves from the symbol.
Despite the appearance of the flag at certain white supremacist events such as the infamous "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia three years ago, Wolske claimed he doesn't "know of any examples of white nationalists choosing to carry the blue line flag." Nonetheless, he says to make such a connection between the flag and racism is unfair.
"Making such a connection means anything a white nationalist carries becomes an instrument of racism," he wrote. "Besides giving tremendous power to white nationalists, such consideration is just illogical."
Furthermore, Wolske accused Hanlon of catering to "the mob" with his decision, questioning why "Black Lives Matter" attire isn't being similarly restricted by the district and worrying of a "slippery slope" in regards to what type of speech is limited.
"What if the mob suddenly decides wearing pants is racially-motivated?" he asked. "Surely pants will still be acceptable in the school community. You might think that is a crazy example, but over the last few months the mob has defaced the memorial to 54th Massachusetts regiment. That was the first all-Black regiment to fight in the Civil War."
The Chardon school board has stood behind Hanlon's decision and also noted a teacher was instructed to remove a "Black Lives Matter" sign from a classroom. However, officials say they "greatly value our partnership with local law enforcement and first responders" and agree that the meaning of the blue line flag "is perceived differently by different people," often in a positive light.
"Political activity by staff members is not allowable under Board of Education policy," the board wrote. "Our support for Dr. Hanlon and the District policy prohibiting political speech by staff members does not diminish the District’s support and appreciation for police and all first responders."
You can read Wolske's entire letter to Hanlon below: