Ore. sheriff removes 'Thin Blue Line' flag from courthouse break room
Sheriff Mike Reese said it was removed while they consider "whether or not it is appropriate to display any altered United States flag inside a county-owned facility"
By Samantha Matsumoto
MULTNOMAH COUNTY, Ore. — After white supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, displayed a black-and-white American flag with a blue line across its center, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese announced a similar flag had been removed from a break room in the Multnomah County Courthouse.
For some, the symbol known as the "Thin Blue Line" flag is used to show support for law enforcement and honor officers killed in the line of duty. Others say it's gotten co-opted by the white nationalist movement and shows disrespect to people of color.
The flag was in a courthouse breakroom for Sheriff's Office staff, said sheriff's spokesman Lt. Chad Gaidos. A Multnomah County commissioner raised concerns about the flag to Reese earlier this week, Reese said in a statement Wednesday.
"The community concerns raised led me to ask that the flag be removed while we consider whether or not it is appropriate to display any altered United States flag inside a county-owned facility," Reese said.
The flag has sometimes served as a flashpoint in what has become the nation's fraught terrain of racial politics.
In March, a Florida woman was asked by her homeowners' association to take down her flag after complaints that it was anti-Black Lives Matter.
St. Louis residents complained after the flag was hung on a float during a popular city parade in June, saying it took attention away from marginalized groups. Parade officials later apologized for displaying the flag.
In Portland, emergency medic technicians were criticized in March for wearing patches with the Thin Blue Line emblem during protests. Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Mike Myers said it was inappropriate for medics to wear the patch because it suggested they sided with police against protesters.
In Charlottesville on Aug. 12, demonstrators displayed the flag alongside Confederate flags during a white nationalist protest. Later that day, a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring at least 19 others. The suspect had expressed racist views in the past, friends reported.
Police Officer Darryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, said neo-Nazis and white supremacists have hijacked the symbol. He's not involved in the county decision, but spoke in general about the flag.
"It's a memorial to fallen officers who have given their lives to support and protect diverse and evolving communities," Turner said. "Anyone who supports (white supremacists') rhetoric should not be using that flag."
It should be made clear that the flag doesn't stand for racist beliefs, he said.
"We reject their rhetoric of hate, bigotry, racism and violence in this country. We need to stand together and fight against that," he said.
At the same time, he said, the flag has value as a way to honor police. "We also need to make sure we support and fight for our symbols," he said.
In a statement, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said the sheriff was right to remove flag.
"We must be open and try to understand how symbols may hurt or offend other people," she said. "The sheriff is taking a positive step and listening to the community's concern, talking to his people, and taking both into account."
The process to determine the flag's fate hasn't yet been determined, Gaidos said. Reese met with staff Wednesday to discuss the flag, the sheriff said in his statement.
"I ask them to work with me to resolve these issues by determining how and where to display the flag in a manner that will honor fallen law enforcement officers and also meet the expectations of our community," Reese said.
©2017 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)