CHRIS POWELL: Show support for the police without 'thin blue line' flag

Published on Wednesday, 7 April 2021 20:51

Despite the criminal prosecution underway in Minneapolis for the wrongful death of George Floyd, police officers are far more sinned against than sinning and are crucial to decent society. So claims that a flag displayed to support them is racist are ridiculous.

The flag in question, the "thin blue line" flag, is a replica of the United States flag with a blue stripe superimposed across its middle. It is no more inherently racist than Black Lives Matter flags and posters. Yes, there are racist cops just as there are racists in the Black Lives Matter movement, and racists may use those flags and posters to solicit support. But the flags and posters have legitimate meaning and are not contaminated by occasional misuse.

These days making an accusation of racism is the quickest way to intimidate one's adversaries. Those who accuse the "thin blue line" flag of racism want to undermine support for all police officers. That must be rejected.

Nevertheless, it is just as well that South Windsor's Town Council failed last week, on a tie vote, to pass a resolution authorizing the "thin blue line" flag to be flown on a town government flagpole in the center of town, as organizational and commemorative flags are authorized to fly there.

For there is a serious problem with the "thin blue line" flag: the Flag Code of the United States. The code is federal law and it says: "The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind."

That is, the flag always should be displayed exactly as it is.

While the code establishes protocol for the flag, no penalties can be imposed for violating it. It is trumped by the right of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Indeed, the Supreme Court has courageously ruled that people have a First Amendment right to burn or deface their own U.S. flags.

But people who love their country should treat the flag, the country's symbol, with respect. They might do well to note a part of the code that is routinely violated:

“The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, or printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”

While people have a right to disobey the flag code, a government flagpole should not be party to it. Surely South Windsor can find another way to show its appreciation for police officers and defend them against the anarchistic smears of racism.

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UNCONSTITUTIONAL BILLS: The First Amendment is not getting the respect it deserves from the General Assembly. Several bills that violate the First Amendment have been introduced and are being taken too seriously.

One would prohibit the publication or broadcast of the identities of the victims of fatal accidents, as well as photos of fatal accidents, before a victim's family is notified. Such circumstances can be shocking, but then word of any untimely death is shocking, whether it comes from police or news organizations. The right to publish and broadcast public events can't be curtailed, and delays in police work can't be allowed to obstruct freedom of expression.

Another bill would block public access to housing court records while letting journalists see them. But journalism is first a constitutional right, not a profession, and anyone can be a journalist at any time. If a journalist has the right of access to public records, equal protection of the law requires that everyone have access.

A third bill would give state government the power to interfere with the ownership and finances of the Hartford Courant because the newspaper holds an antique state charter. But the charter did not give state government the authority to run the paper.

The pending acquisition of the newspaper chain that owns the Courant by a rapacious investment house may be a disaster for journalism nationally and in Connecticut, but then anyone else can make a better offer for the paper.

Legislators might do far more for journalism if they ever made sure that Connecticut students could read at a high school level and had some understanding of citizenship when they are given their diplomas.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Wednesday, 7 April 2021 20:51. Updated: Wednesday, 7 April 2021 20:53.