A Maine couple named Charlie and Steph Black are pushing back against neighbors who claim the “Thin Blue Line” American flag they flew outside their home to honor Charlie’s late father — an officer killed on duty — is racist.
"This is not a racist white supremacist symbol, and I'm angry it’s portrayed that way," Charlie told local station News Center Maine. His father, Maine State Trooper Charles Black, was shot and killed responding to a bank robbery on July 9, 1964 — leaving behind his wife Mary Andrews Black, who was pregnant with Charlie, and two additional sons.
“That was a really tough time for my family," Charlie, who was born three weeks after his father’s death, said. "The family changes forever." Now, 55 years after his passing, Charlie says hanging the flag on a telephone pole outside their residence is a way to honor him. "It not only represents our family's loss, but it represents all officers lost," Charlie added.
According to a spokesperson from Thin Blue Line USA, the flag is meant to “show support for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us,” with the blue line symbolizing how the police serve as a barrier between “crime, anarchy, and chaos.” The stars, reads a page on the company’s website, symbolize the “citizens who benefit from the sacrifice of our heroes on the line made to protect them.”
Not everyone agrees that’s the message it conveys — particularly after it was carried by white supremacists in the deadly 2017 Charlottesville, Va. protests. As a result of that, many consider it to be a symbol of the Blue Lives Matter movement, a counter to the Black Lives Matter group in support of police officers.
At "Unite the Right," they're flying Blue Lives Matter flags along with Confederate Flags and Vanguard America flags. pic.twitter.com/yQ9Li9wkLp— Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) August 12, 2017
For this reason, several concerned York residents filed complaints with York Town Manager Stephen Burns and local advocacy group York Diversity Forum.
"A resident came in and said there's a problem. This is a flag that represents segregation and discrimination," York Town Manager Steve Burns told News Center Maine. After local publications picked up on the controversy, the entire local community was divided over whether the flag was commemorative or offensive.
“The blue line flag is used as a racist response to Black Lives Matter,” one resident commented on Facebook. Other users argued that the flag had simply gotten conflated in a larger political dispute over police brutality when it was simply intended to honor “our fallen heroes in blue.”
“I'm super goddamn liberal, and even I see that this flag is intended only to honor a fallen police officer,” one Facebook user commented.
Much to the dismay of the entire Black family, the public pressure to remove the offensive flag proved to be too much, and they took down the flag from the telephone pole on July 22, local paper York Weekly reported. Yahoo Lifestyle was unable to get in contact with any of the Black family.
“God forbid we should offend anyone,” Mary Andrews, a former York town public official, told York Weekly. “It bothers me tremendously. It’s the anniversary of his death. He gave his life to protect the public, and I gave my life to this town, and we can’t even celebrate this person. I’m sorry I offended them. It’s coming down and it won’t happen again.”
While both Burns and members of the York Diversity Forum say they personally never asked for the flag to be removed, they say they empathize with the Black family. Yahoo Lifestyle’s attempts to reach members of the York Diversity Forum and Stephen Burns were not immediately returned.
“I don’t know what the right outcome is,” Burns told York Weekly. “This family was putting up the flag in memory of Mary’s husband. She’s feeling hurt right now. I also don’t want some visitor to think it’s a racist flag. So I’m glad it’s down. I don’t want the community festering over this.”
While it was a difficult decision to ask the Black family to surrender their flag, York Diversity Forum board members said they simply hoped to educate community members that the Thin Blue Line flag means different things to different people.
"The flag has been used by people who are racist," Chair Susan Kepner told News Center Maine. "What we're about is bringing things forward that are of concern and trying to educate people in a forum, where you can hear both sides and create understanding by understanding both sides."
While the Thin Blue Line American flag has become inextricably bound to the controversial Blue Lives Matter counter-movement, a spokesperson from Thin Blue Line USA says that the company has not and never will be involved with their contentious political credo.
“We really steer away from the negative political message out there and choose not to have a conversation in that,” a Thin Blue Line USA spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We talk about the positive things that our officers are doing everyday when they put on their uniforms, serve their community, and are willing to stand between us and a bullet across the nation — that’s what the Thin Blue Line flag stands for.”
Although the Thin Blue Line Flag cannot be seen outside their residence, Steph and Charlie have instead defiantly decided to still fly the Thin Blue Line American flag outside their front porch to stand in solidarity with all police officers and their loved ones, News Center Maine reported.
"This is what we do, and we're not going to let it be taken away from us,” Charlie said.
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: