YORK, Maine — A Thin Blue Line flag — a black and white American flag with one blue line — that had been flying from a York Street telephone pole was removed Monday evening, after sparking concern from the York Diversity Forum that it could be sending a racist message.
The flag, however, had been placed on the pole for an entirely different reason. The family of former selectman Mary Black Andrews put the flag up to honor her deceased husband, Trooper Charles Black, who was killed in the line of duty 55 years ago this month. The telephone pole is at the York Street intersection of a family compound on Andrews Way.
The juxtaposition of a flag flown to honor a slain police officer with a flag, also known as the Blue Lives Matter flag, that was used by white supremacist groups during the Charlottesville, Virginia, demonstrations in 2017 is not lost on Town Manager Steve Burns.
“I don’t know what the right outcome is,” Burns said. “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.”
Trooper Charles Black was shot to death during a bank robbery in South Berwick on July 9, 1964. Andrews’ son, Charlie Black, who was not immediately available for comment, lives on Andrews Way and had apparently put the flag up for the month of July to honor his father.
Members of the York Diversity Forum noticed the flag and, not knowing any background about who put it up, had real concerns about the message it could be sending, said President Susan Kepner. Not only was the flag brought to Charlottesville as a unifying symbol for white nationalists, she said, “it looks just like an American flag but it’s black and white. We were concerned about the message that sends. We get along well with the Police Department, and we honor fallen heroes as well as anyone else. We would just like positive messages out there.”
Andrews, in a brief phone interview, was clearly upset about the situation.
“God forbid we should offend anyone,” she said. “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.”
The flag itself aside, Kepner raised a broader concern, wondering what’s to prevent a flag of any sort to be flown on the telephone poles, including those that might also incite concern. “If people want to hang the flag on their private property, that’s their right. But it could be a can of worms if we allow flags all over town on those brackets.”
Police Chief Charles Szeniawski said he doesn’t have an answer to Kepner’s question. “There is no policy about flags. Can anyone put anything up there? I don’t know. Maybe it’s something we should look at.”
Szeniawski said clearly this flag “meant different things to different people. It’s how people interpret it.” Police officers see the flag in yet another context.
“For most officers that’s the thin blue line flag,” he said. “Just because you’re an officer doesn’t allow you to do anything you want. You can’t cross that line. That’s what it means to most of us.”
He and Burns said Andrews called each of them, distraught, on Monday. Burns characterized her as both “pissed and heartbroken. For her, it’s an insult.” Yet Szeniawski said after he heard the explanation of York Diversity Forum members, he could see their point that “it was taking something positive and turning into something nasty.”