Hingham selectman: Displaying ‘thin blue line’ flag on fire truck ‘inconsistent’ with town’s flag practice

Hingham selectman: Displaying ‘thin blue line’ flag on fire truck ‘inconsistent’ with town’s flag practice
(Boston25News.com Staff/Boston25News.Com Staff)

HINGHAM, Mass. — Hingham town leaders issued a statement Tuesday following controversy over a “Thin Blue Line” flag flying on a fire apparatus to honor a slain police sergeant.

The president of the Hingham Firefighters Union said they put up the flag to support the family of Sgt. Michael Chesna, a Weymouth police officer who was killed in the line of duty.

The union said they were told the flag was a political statement and it was not allowed on town property, but they refused to take it down.

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On Tuesday, Hingham Selectman Joseph Fisher said in a statement that they received a complaint from a resident, reminding them that the town refused to fly a gay pride flag on town property last month. Here is Fisher’s entire statement:

“The Board of Selectmen has consistently supported our public safety departments. We have a proud history of recognizing and valuing the contributions made by the men and women who serve the Town with distinction and honor.

In recent months we have seen protests around the country in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, with increasing questions about the role of police in society, and a growing call among some activists to “defund the police.” Indeed, at our Town Meeting held last month there was a citizen “hold” placed on our proposed budget for the Police Department. In response, the Board of Selectmen stood with our men and women in blue. I stood up, on behalf of the Board, to acknowledge the issues of racial and social justice that have motivated calls for increased scrutiny of police budgets in numerous cities across the country. I further stated, in unequivocal language, that those concerns were not justified in Hingham because, in our Town, police officers perform to a high level of professionalism, are sensitive to issues of fairness and justice in our community, and they are ultimately accountable to the Board of Selectmen on matters of policy and discipline. I concluded my statement with a pledge that the Board would remain vigilant and would respond with care and compassion to residents who might come forward with concerns about racial and social justice. Last week a resident did come forward with a concern. He sent an email to the Board of Selectmen that questioned whether the “Thin Blue Line” flag should be displayed on a fire truck. He stated: “The thin blue line flag has undoubtedly become a political symbol, most often used to counter Black Lives Matter and the fight against rampant police brutality. While Hingham is blessed with a remarkable police force and these problems may not be as relevant to our quiet little town, the symbols are still representative of issues that our country is confronting as a whole.

The resident reminded us that just a month ago the Board of Selectmen had refused a request to fly the rainbow flag (also known as the gay pride flag or LGBTQ+ pride flag) on Town property. Why, then, was the Thin Blue Line Flag allowed? In fact, the Board had made its decision to decline flying the rainbow flag not because we didn’t support its message of inclusivity, but because of the Town’s long-standing practice to limit flag displays on Town property to the flag of the United States of America, the flag of the Commonwealth, the Town of Hingham flag, the POW MIA flag, a flag in memory of veterans of World War I, as well as flags flown to commemorate Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15th of each year. The Town’s flag practice had been explained by Town Counsel in a public session of the Board of Selectmen in June.

The resident’s request to remove the Thin Blue Line flag from the fire truck was forwarded to the Fire Chief. I understand that the Fire Chief consulted with the Police Chief and the Town Administrator, each of whom recognized that displaying the Thin Blue Line flag was inconsistent with the Town’s flag practice. Their decision was not based on any ill will towards our police heroes. It did not reflect a decision to belittle the sacrifices made by those who put their lives at risk each day. Rather, the decision represented the consistent implementation of the Town’s practice concerning the public display of only official flags on Town property. This was a practice that had been applied in the prior month to the rainbow flag, with the same result.

No group has more respect for the men and women of the Police Department than the Board of Selectmen. We demand a commitment to public service combined with high levels of skills and an appreciation of the sensitivity needed to deliver public safety in a challenging environment. In return, we pledge our ongoing support and appreciation. To highlight the importance of public safety, the Board of Selectmen is currently on track to call for a Special Town Meeting this fall to request funds for the purchase of property to construct a state-ofthe-art public safety complex to serve as the new Police Headquarters and North Fire Station.

We plan to proceed with the public safety complex, despite financial constraints imposed by the current pandemic, because of the high priority we place on the needs of the police and fire departments.

While there is room for discussion about the best ways to show appreciation and support for our public safety personnel, there is no place in Hingham for the hate and vitriol that have been targeted towards the resident who asked us to look into public displays of the Thin Blue Line flag. 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 assignation, 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.

Our support for the men and women who serve this Town is unwavering.” -Joseph M. Fisher, member of the Hingham Board of Selectman and liaison to the Hingham Police Department

Earlier, Hingham Fire Lt. Chris Melanson, president of Hingham Firefighters Local 2398, issued a statement after the town asked firefighters to remove the flag they had displayed on fire apparatus to honor Chesna. Here is the firefighter union’s full statement:

“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. -Hingham Fire Lt. Chris Melanson, president of Hingham Firefighters Local 2398

Cindy Chesna, the widow of the fallen police Sgt. Michael Chesna, also posted the following message on Facebook after the controversy, expressing her disappointment with the removal of the flag that firefighters had displayed to honor her slain husband.

In the post, which is in its entirety below, Cindy Chesna said that: “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.”

Two years ago my husband Sgt Michael Chesna was killed for doing the job he loved, being a police officer. It was, and...

Posted by Cindy Doran Chesna on Sunday, July 26, 2020