Marc Elrich is an elected official in Montgomery County, Maryland, who has faced a backlash after deciding that the police department would not be permitted to display a flag associated with the “Blue Lives Matter” cause.
The wooden flag, which contains a single blue line, was a gift from a resident named James Shelton and his young son. They made it in honor of National First Responders Day. The Montgomery County Police Department posted a photo on Twitter on October 30, 2019, and declared that the flag would be displayed at the 5th District Station.
Critics were quick to respond, arguing that the flag does not merely show support for police. Opponents say the flag has been used as a symbol to counteract the Black Lives Matter movement. The Washington Post reports that the flag was among those carried by white nationalists during the Charlottesville rally in 2017.
On November 1, Elrich made his announcement that the flag wouldn’t be shown at the police station. But that decision has prompted more outage, including from the governor of Maryland and the police union.
Heavy has reached out to Elrich’s office for comment about the scrutiny and whether he might reverse his decision. We have not yet heard back.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Marc Elrich Blamed the Flag’s Divisiveness For His Decision
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich shared a message to the police department’s Twitter account to explain why he was barring the wooden flag from being publicly displayed. The statement read:
“Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones and I understand the concerns of the community. The flag provides a symbol of support to some but it is a symbol of dismissiveness to others. Because it is divisive, the flag will not be posted at the 5th District nor in any public space within the Police Department. Under my administration, we are committed to improving police relations with the community and will immediately address any action that stands against our mission.”
Elrich’s statement spurred additional discussion on the thread. Some supported expressed the opinion that the flag is offensive due to cases of police officers using excessive force against minority citizens. Others said that the American flag is not supposed to be altered. Opponents, meanwhile, have described Elrich’s decision as “disgraceful” and accused him of failing to support law enforcement officers.
2. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan Said He Was ‘Disgusted’ By Elrich’s Choice & Called On the County Executive to Apologize to the Police Department
The governor of Maryland entered the argument on November 3. Larry Hogan pointed out that the flag hangs in the statehouse. Governor Hogan posted photos of himself standing next to them and called on Marc Elrich to allow the police department to display the wooden flag.
“We are proud to hang these Thin Blue Line flags in Government House to honor our brave law enforcement officers. A local elected official prohibiting police from displaying a flag given to them by a grateful child is disgraceful. I have attended the funerals of fallen law enforcement officers across our state, and I take time to thank them every day for their dedicated service and sacrifice.
We proudly hang this very same American flag in Government House in their honor. To outlaw these American flags from being hung in county buildings by law enforcement officers is outrageous and unconscionable. I strongly call on Mr. Elrich to immediately reverse this terrible decision and to apologize to the police and the citizens of Montgomery County.”
The local police union has also expressed dismay over Elrich’s move. The Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement on November 2, stating that the “working police officers of Montgomery County are highly offended by this act of outright disrespect for them and that flag which represents the sacrifices and dedication of police officers who daily risk their lives, health, limbs and own well-being in service to their community.”
3. James Shelton & His Son Gifted a Second Wooden Flag to the Fire Department That Featured a Red Line
The Montgomery County Police Department wasn’t the only group to receive a special wooden flag in honor of National Responders Day. James Shelton and his son, Forrest, presented a similar flag to Fire & Rescue Station 31 in Darnestown, Maryland. Shelton is a professional woodworker in the area.
This version included a bright red line instead of a blue line. The fire station shared several photos from the Sheltons’ visit and the flag to social media. The organization wrote in part, “Our members are truly humbled to accept and display this one of a kind custom piece of artwork that represents our devotion to the community which we serve.”
The flag is on display at the firehouse.
4. Marc Elrich Says Witnessing Racial Injustice Growing Up in Montgomery County Inspired Him to Get Involved In Politics
Marc Elrich was born in Washington, D.C. but has spent the majority of his life in Montgomery County, Maryland. According to his bio on the county government website, Elrich and his wife raised their children in Takoma Park.
Elrich explained in the official bio that he witnessed racial disparity as a child. He says the majority of his friends were African-American and he felt it was wrong for them to be treated differently from him.
He specifically recalled an instance in which a real estate agent came to the house and warned his mother about black families moving into the community. Elrich said, “The idea that my mother was being told that black families moving into a neighborhood would depress the property values and destroy the neighborhood sounded wrong to me then.”
Elrich says he participated in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and was involved in efforts at the University of Maryland to desegregate businesses and apartment complexes. Elrich continued to stay active in community affairs as an organizer after moving back to Montgomery County. He said he ultimately decided to run for public office because he felt he could have a stronger impact going that route.
5. Marc Elrich Previously Worked as a Teacher & Served For More Than a Decade On the Montgomery County Council
Elrich previously worked as a public school teacher in Montgomery County. He was a teacher at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park for 17 years, according to his County Executive bio. During that time period, he also served on the Takoma Park City Council from 1987 through 2006.
Elrich was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2006. He was re-elected twice and served for 12 years. In 2018, Elrich defeated two opponents to become County Executive. He secured nearly two-thirds of the vote, reported the Washington Post at the time. When he was sworn in, Elrich vowed to do use his office to try to “create a more just society.”