ROCKVILLE, Md. — Maryland politicians are squaring off over the symbolism behind Thin Blue Line flags. After Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich ordered police not to display a painted wooden flag given as a gift by Germantown resident James Shelton and his son to commemorate National First Responders Day, Maryland Governor Larry called Elrich "disgraceful."
Elrich said engaging with Hogan in the controversy is "a waste of time."
"He shouldn't be mucking in it," Elrich said. "He ought to be thinking about his own constituents in the state who probably have the same concerns that Montgomery County residents have."
The flag is viewed by supporters as an expression of appreciation for law enforcement officers.
But Elrich says the meaning of the flag has changed, particularly after it was adopted as the primary symbol of Blue Lives Matter, a countermovement to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Thin Blue Line flag was carried by some white nationalist protesters during the violent confrontations in Charlottesville in 2017.
"It's two different things," Elrich said noting the power of symbols. "For some people, it's a source of comfort and I respect that. But for other people, it's a source of problematic behavior. This has everything to do with the appropriation of that symbol for something that the thin blue line actually didn't represent."
Opinions on the flag are divided within Montgomery County.
Montgomery College student Jesse Patton said he doesn't view the flag negatively.
"It's about how people are supporting cops," Patton said.
Fellow student Catherine Mabry disagreed.
"Some of the time you see a Blue Lives Matter flag and you're going to see a Confederate flag right next to it," Mabry said. "Even if we're ignoring the fact that it's white nationalism, it's still taking the American flag and changing it. You're not supposed to do that."
"We are trying to undo a level of distrust from the police department," Elrich said. "And if I were to say 'I'm indifferent to the symbol's meaning,' people in the community might feel that's not constructive."