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Thin blue line flag removed from Mass. firetruck gets permanent home at county jail

The flag, given to the sheriff’s office by the Weymouth Police Department, was raised in a ceremony on Monday


Cindy Chesna, wife of Weymouth police Sgt. Michael Chesna, who was killed on-duty in 2018, raises a “thin blue line” flag in his honor at the Norfolk County jail on August 10, 2020.

Norfolk County Sheriff’s office

By Joe DiFazio
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

DEDHAM, Mass. — After seeing the controversy surrounding “thin blue line” flags in Hingham, Norfolk County Sheriff Jerry McDermott said he wanted to give the flag a place of prominence to honor police officers. So the black-and-white version of the American flag with a single blue stripe in the middle will fly at the Norfolk County jail permanently, he said.

The flag, given to the sheriff’s office by the Weymouth Police Department, was raised in a ceremony on Monday. McDermott said the flag honors Weymouth police Sgt. Michael Chesna, who was killed on duty in 2018, and other police officers who risk their lives to protect people. Chesna’s alleged killer, Emanuel Lopes, has been charged with murder.

Hingham firefighters flew thin blue line flags on fire engines to honor Chesna around the anniversary of his death last month, but town leaders ordered the flags be taken down, citing a town policy against displaying political statements on public property.

Over the last several months, the flag has been used by Blue Lives Matter and Back the Blue groups in retaliation to the Black Lives Matter movement’s calls to defund police departments.

“I have been paying attention to the news of what was going on in Hingham and I was really disappointed,” McDermott said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I have noting but respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day and I wanted to give the flag that honors Chesna a place of prominence.”

The new flagpole at the Dedham facility was donated by the union of the correctional officers who work there, New England Police Benevolent Association Local 575.

Cindy Chesna, Sgt. Michael Chesna’s wife, and Chesna’s parents, along with Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund, were at the private ceremony to raise the flag.

Amid ongoing national tensions about racial equality sparked by the recent killing of unarmed Black Americans by police officers, the flag has been used by pro-police groups and rallies, some of which are a direct counter to Black Lives Matter groups calling for reforms to protect non-white people from what activists view as systemic racism.

Hingham residents who spoke in a board of selectmen meeting amid the controversy in late July mostly supported the town’s decision to remove the flag and cited racially charged language that supporters used during a Back the Blue rally at Hingham Town Hall against a Black counter-protester who put herself in the middle of the rally.

McDermott said the flag is being mischaracterized.

“It’s hard for me for people to say the flag is racist,” McDermott said. “It’s disheartening for people to say the flag is something it’s not.”

When asked whether he worries about anyone feeling alienated by the flag, McDermott said he’d ask people to just look into what the flag means and how it honors a diverse group of police officers. He said he hadn’t heard from any inmates about the flag.

South Shore firefighters are also flying the flag after it was taken down in Hingham. The thin blue line flag has been flown by firefighters in Quincy, Weymouth, Braintree and Rockland, among other towns. The state’s firefighters’ union said it will tour the flag around the state.

In a Facebook post Sunday, the Braintree firefighters’ union called it the “the Sgt. Michael Chesna ‘thin blue line’ flag.”

©2020 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

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