WEYMOUTH, Mass. — In Weymouth, it’s one flag with two vastly different interpretations. Two petitions are now circulating online, both supporting and opposing the removal of Thin Blue Line flags within the public high school.
Bodhi Kolwaite, a senior at Weymouth High School, created the initial petition for the flag’s removal, citing concerns that minority students felt uncomfortable.
“I feel overwhelming disgust, overwhelming anger and frustration at the fact that this is everywhere in our school,” he told Boston 25 News on Sunday. “There are teachers and nurses with masks of the flag, in teachers’ classrooms with the flag and, most notably, the Weymouth High School football team runs out every game with a gigantic flag.”
Kolwaite explained that the Thin Blue Line flags come off as intimidating and even distracting in the classroom. Luke Seto, a junior at Weymouth High School who helped create the petition, agreed.
“You have a student body of people of color, minorities, saying we feel uncomfortable by this. There are people out in the world getting killed by the very police force that are supposed to protect them,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, it’s a symbol of hate, fear, intimidation. It represents corruption, racism, oppression. Whether you like it or not, it’s scaring students. People don’t feel safe in their own schools.”
In the petition, the group cited centuries of racial discrimination by the police force. It wasn’t long, however, before a fellow student made an opposing online petition.
“I just don’t see their argument against not liking police,” said Ryan Lindblom, a junior at Weymouth High School who authored the ‘Keep Thin Blue Line Symbolism in Weymouth High’ petition.
Lindblom told Boston 25 News on Sunday that he doesn’t believe the flag is political. Instead, he said, he believes the flag honors Weymouth fallen officer Sgt. Michael Chesna, who was killed in the line of duty in 2018.
“Law enforcement isn’t politics. Politics is presidents, mayors, senators, it’s all that. Police don’t get voted to do that job, they selected to do that job and they support what you do in the town,” he said.
Lindblom said he’s received a lot of support from people across the city, especially his high school football team, which flies the flag before games.
“I had a coach who texted me and said, ‘this means a lot, this was really good of you, I wish I could have done this, but at least you spoke up and did something about it,’” he said.
He added that he also feels for officers who have faced recent criticism.
“I’ll always support them because they’ve never done any wrong to me,” Lindblom said. “They don’t do a lot of wrong to any people.”
When asked about honoring the life of Sgt. Chesna, Kolwaite said it could be done in different ways.
“We’re not saying that you can’t honor Chesna, we’re not saying that you can’t have pictures of him or anything to honor him. We’re just simply asking to remove a symbol that makes students of color feel uncomfortable,” he said.
Kolwaite told Boston 25 News that he has received racist threats and harassing messages since the petition first started circulating.
“Someone put a box of fireworks on our front yard and blew them up at 3 o’clock in the morning, waking us up,” he explained. “Until people look into their souls and think about listening and caring for other people of color, then this world will not change.”
Kolwaite said that he planned to send his petition to Superintendent of Weymouth Schools Dr. Jennifer Curtis-Whipple on Sunday night.
On Monday, Curtis-Whipple, responded to both petitions circulating online, telling Boston 25 News:
“We were recently made aware of student petitions being circulated in the community regarding expressive speech and symbolism. We understand the differing perspectives surrounding modern social topics and the resulting profound emotions and feelings. We will continue to have conversations around these complex issues. We are committed to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for all of our students and staff in the Weymouth School District.”
According to Kolwaite, administrators attended a meeting Monday to discuss how to handle the situation.
He told Boston 25 that high school Principal Alan Strauss gave him a phone call to hear more about the issue.
“I recently was in a call with my principal and several other people. They said they’re working on it, they’re having a committee meeting with the superintendent and several other people, district attorneys, many others,” said Kolwaite.
He added that he’s not confident the administration will take action.
“I’m not very confident in their abilities to actually make our full demands met, and we will not rest until all of them are met,” he said. “I have heard reports of certain deans, certain teachers who have said extremely racially insensitive things toward the students, and when these are brought up to higher powers, nothing happens. So I’m very concerned anything will actually happen.”
Cox Media Group