City officials force police to remove thin blue line flags from fire trucks after firefighters refuse to

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HINGHAM, MA — Members of the Hingham Local 2398 firefighters union refused to take down “thin blue line” flags from atop fire trucks following a town complaint and directive from police and fire chiefs, according to a statement from the union president.

Hingham Fire Chief Steve Murphy and Police Chief Glenn Olsson wrote in a letter to personnel that the black and blue flags had brought on a citizen complaint and are in violation of a town policy that forbids political messaging on town property, according to a report.

“The past few days have been very disappointing for the members of Local 2398. Our disappointment began with the decision that the ‘thin blue line’ flags should be removed from our apparatus,” wrote Lt. Chris Melanson, Local 2398 president, in a statement.

The Hingham Firefighters Local 2390 previously said that its members could not bring themselves to remove the flags, so they teamed up with area law enforcement officers and other first responders to take them down on their “own terms” at approximately 7:30 a.m. on July 30, the union said in a Facebook post.

“We were aware of an impending order to remove the flags from the apparatus,” the post read.

“We did not want to risk the chance of having these flags removed from the trucks in a disrespectful manner. The decision was made to conduct the removal of the flags on our own terms to provide the highest level of respect that they deserve,” the post continued.

It is not clear how this issue became a police matter and required their involvement beyond city officials asking them to remove the flags, which obviously support police.

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The union donated the flags to the Weymouth Police Department (WPD) in honor of Weymouth Police Sergeant Michael Chesna, a 42-year-old father of two who was murdered in the line of duty while chasing a suspect on foot on July 15, 2018.

The WPD participated in the thin blue line flag removal ceremony on Thursday morning, according to the union.

“Police officers from the night shift, who worked alongside Sgt. Chesna removed the flags from our trucks,” the firefighters union said. “The flags will be brought to the Weymouth Police Headquarters where they will continue to fly with honor.”

The union said it was thankful for the outpouring of support it has received over the course of the past week and that it will continue to stand in “solidarity” with law enforcement.

“We will continue our unwavering support for our brothers and sisters in law enforcement and first responders everywhere,” the firefighters union said.

The union explained in a July 23 Facebook post that it began flying thin blue line flags from the town’s fire apparatus in observance of the anniversary of Sgt. Chesna’s line-of-duty death:

“The flags were recently put on the apparatus leading up to the anniversary of the senseless murder of officer Michael Chesna in our neighboring community of Weymouth,” the union said in the post.

“We continued to fly the flags after the anniversary in support of the law enforcement officers in our own community, as well as all law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.”

The union argued that the thin blue line flags did not represent a “political statement…nor was it an attempt to show support for, or against, any specific political party or advocacy group.”

But critics filed complaints with the city, which ultimately determined that flying thin blue line flags from the fire engine “was a violation of a town policy,” according to the firefighters.

The Board of Selectmen also asked that the “ceaseless and vicious” harassment of the person filing the complaint be stopped, according to the Patch:

“In the last week he has received numerous threats against his property and his life. The harassment is ceaseless and vicious. And it has recently expanded to target the welfare and safety of his family.

“Such conduct debases any attempt at public discourse and makes hypocrites of those who would call for respect for public safety officers while simultaneously threatening the safety of others.

“When petitioning the Board of Selectmen leads to name calling, character assassination, intimidation and threats of physical violence, this only serves to deface all flags that we might choose to display in honor of our peace officers.”

Selectmen Chair Mary Power said:

“Divisiveness gets in the way of listening and understanding and finding a path forward.”

Town Administrator Tom Mayo said town officials were working on a respectful approach to ensure removal is complete:

“We’re working with fire and police personnel to do this carefully and respectfully so we can move forward as a community.”

The Anchor reported that Andrew Turner said the flag was racist:

“The Thin Blue Line flag has been co-opted by white supremacists, and they have no place on the town’s fire trucks.”

Hingham Unity Council member Katie Sutton also said she supported the decision to remove the flags in order to keep the city a safe space:

“I want to live in a community where people feel safe.”

However, the union repeatedly asked for a copy of the policy its members were alleged to have violated, but “have been met with silence,” the group said in a post on Monday.

“The past few days have been very disappointing for the members of Local 2398. Our disappointment began with the decision that the ‘Thin Blue Line’ flags should be removed from our apparatus. That feeling has continued over the past few days, as our repeated requests for a copy of the policy that we have allegedly violated, have been met with silence. The firefighters of Local 2398 display the highest level of professionalism and respect at all times, and it is disheartening to not have that reciprocated.

“Despite the frustration this has caused, the community has responded with an overwhelming outpouring of support for the members of Local 2398, Hingham Police officers, Weymouth Police officers, and the Chesna family. The voices of support have far outweighed the voices of opposition. It is abundantly clear the vast majority of people support the thin blue line for exactly what it represents.

“The ‘Thin Blue Line’ has existed for over 100 years. It has always, and will always, represent the men and women of law enforcement that hold the line between peace and chaos. Especially those who have bravely made the ultimate sacrifice during the performance of these heroic duties. We stand by our initial statement that this has no political message for one reason, and one reason only, because honoring the sacrifices made by the men and women of law enforcement is not political. Period.

“It should also be noted that several instances of material that could be viewed as ‘political’ in nature have been found throughout the Town of Hingham. Many times on town owned property. It is our position that if this policy does exist, it should be enforced in all instances. It should not be based on whether or not a resident finds it offensive.

“At this time the Hingham Firefighters of Local 2398 respectfully request the town reconsider their decision to deem these flags as political statements. Otherwise, we regret to inform you that over the past 4 days no member of Local 2398 was able to sacrifice his or her moral fortitude in order to remove the flags from the apparatus. As we said before, our support for our brothers and sisters in blue is unwavering. The flags have continued to fly with honor every day. They will have to be removed by someone other than a member of this union.”

The post was signed, “In Solidarity, Hingham Firefighters Local 2398, Lt. Chris Melanson, Local 2398 President.”

The union said that although the lack of response from town leaders has been “disheartening,” they have received an “overwhelming outpouring of support” from the community.

Not only have citizens been speaking out in defense of HFD – they have also been backing the Hingham Police Department, the Weymouth Police Department and Sgt. Chesna’s family.

“The voices of support have far outweighed the voices of opposition,” the union said. “It is abundantly clear the vast majority of people support the thin blue line for exactly what it represents.”

In a powerful Facebook post on Sunday, Sgt. Chesna’s wife, Cindy, said she initially received an outpouring of support from politicians and community members after her husband’s murder two years ago, but that two years later the complete opposite has happened:

“Two years ago my husband Sgt Michael Chesna was killed for doing the job he loved, being a police officer. It was, and continues to be, the most painful thing I have ever endured. It has affected not only me and my children, but my family, Mike’s family, and Mike’s friends.

“When Mike was murdered there were no protests (peaceful or otherwise), no riots, and no looting. There was certainly no public outcry from politicians for the reform of a broken justice system that lets repeat offenders out on the street. Instead everyone banded together and prayed, we prayed that we would find the strength to face each day with the knowledge of what we lost.

“At that time I received a tremendous outpouring of support from politicians, our first responders, and citizens of towns near and far.

“People, by way of ribbons, flags, signs and lightbulbs turned my town blue to show their respect not only for mike, in recognition of his sacrifice, but as a way to support all of our brave law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.

“Part of this tribute included the thin blue line flag which, to this day, is displayed everywhere in my home, on our clothing, cars and in various places of our town and many other towns.

“The thin blue line flag is not a political statement and does not represent an opposition toward anything. It simply represents the police officers role of separating the good from the bad while creating order from the chaos. This is what separates the world from them.

“No one had an issue with the thin blue line flag then nor did they have an issue with our officers who instead were treated with the respect that they so deserve.

“Two years later I am witnessing the complete opposite from a lot of the people who looked me straight in the eyes at mikes wake and promised to always be there for me, offering anything they could do.

“Now those same politicians are showing the utmost disrespect to our officers with this reform bill and even a certain town (with the agreement of both the fire Chief and police Chief) are disrespecting our officers by demanding that the thin blue line flag be removed from their fire trucks.

“I take each of these actions as a personal attack on everything Mike stood for as a police officer and a decorated army veteran with 2 two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“My children are growing up in a world where police are vilified. Their father was not a villain, he was a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice. His memory should never be tarnished by anyone.

“It is not okay to judge someone based on the color of their skin, sexual orientation, race, gender etc, but it has become absolutely permitted and almost encouraged to despise police officers because of the job they choose to do.

“They did not choose to be victims of all this but to only serve and protect.

“People don’t realize that these officers come home and take off the uniform and are people just like you and me. Obviously, as past actions of some police officers have shown, those who choose to abuse their authority should be removed from their position and punished criminally.

“However, these bad apples are the exception rather than the rule. I do not condone violence and I agree that every person, no matter what your job, needs to be held accountable for their actions. I also feel that those who give false promises of unwavering support should be held accountable in November.

“My children and I have witnessed enough hatred in the world and I do not want them to grow up thinking that this is the norm. My children have seen way more than they should be seeing.

“Please respect one another and be kind, no matter the circumstances. There is no place for disrespect and violence in this world. Please try your best to choose love over hate. 🖤💙🖤

“I couldn’t be silent anymore. This is way to personal for me and I will always stand up for my husband. His memory won’t be desecrated along with any officer that has payed the ultimate sacrifice.😢💔”

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