Why Are Flags Half-Staff in Some Regions Today & Not Others?

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Why are some flags half-staff today on Saturday, May 15, 2021, but not all flags are? Today is an unusual day due to Peace Officers Memorial Day, which is part of National Police Week 2021. While there’s typically a national order for flags to fly half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, there’s actually an exception in place this year. Meanwhile, a number of states have their own proclamations in place today. Here’s a look at the people who are being honored across the country with lowered flags:


Today Is Peace Officers Memorial Day, but Armed Forces Day Calls for Flags Nationally to Be at Full-Staff

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden signed a national proclamation for Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week 2021 that included calling for flags to fly at half-staff. However, he later had to edit this proclamation due to Armed Forces Day, which also takes place today. Thus, some people may have their flags at half-staff today when they actually shouldn’t.

Peace Officers Memorial Day was designated in 1962 to fall on May 15 of every year during Police Week. In most years, all governors of states and territories within the U.S. are asked to fly their flags at half-staff on May 15, and Americans are invited to do the same at their homes and businesses. However, when Armed Forces Day also falls on Peace Officers Memorial Day, there’s an exception and flags should fly at full-staff instead.

Biden’s original proclamation had called for flags to fly at half-staff today. He changed the proclamation.

Biden’s original proclamation, signed on May 7, read:

Every day, we ask a great deal of the men and women of our Nation’s law enforcement agencies; from ensuring public safety, to serving as front-line workers, to responding to incidents involving domestic violence, substance use disorders, mental health challenges, and homelessness, often with limited resources.  Every morning, our Nation’s law enforcement officers pin on a badge and go to work, not knowing what the day will bring, and hoping to come home safely.  This year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic took a physical, mental, and emotional toll, our officers, deputies, and troopers demonstrated courage and dedication in continuing to support our communities.  As we recognize Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week, we honor those who lost their lives in the line of duty, and thank them on behalf of this grateful Nation for their service.

The economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has strained State, local, and Tribal budgets — forcing many communities to stretch their funding, consider layoffs, and reduce public services.  My Administration will support our Nation’s law enforcement agencies and officers and work to ensure they have the resources and research tools they need to do their jobs successfully and the funding necessary to enhance officer safety and wellness, including improving access to mental health services.  We will also continue to bolster initiatives that protect our law enforcement officers’ physical safety — including those that provide for bulletproof vests and active shooter training.

This year, we also recognize that in many of our communities, especially Black and brown communities, there is a deep sense of distrust towards law enforcement; a distrust that has been exacerbated by the recent deaths of several Black and brown people at the hands of law enforcement.  These deaths have resulted in a profound fear, trauma, pain, and exhaustion for many Black and brown Americans, and the resulting breakdown in trust between law enforcement and the communities they have sworn to protect and serve ultimately makes officers’ jobs harder and more dangerous as well.  In order to rebuild that trust, our State, local, and Federal Government and law enforcement agencies must protect constitutional rights, ensure accountability for misconduct, and embrace policing that reflects community values and ensures community safety.  These approaches benefit those who wear the badge and those who count on their protection.

We must also stop tasking law enforcement with problems that are far beyond their jurisdictions.  From providing emergency health care to resolving school discipline issues, our communities rely on the police to perform services that often should be the duty of other institutions.  We then accuse the police of failure when responsibility lies with public policy choices they did not make.  Supporting our law enforcement officers requires that we invest in underfunded public systems that provide health care, counseling, housing, education, and other social services.

There are many ways we can demonstrate appreciation for our law enforcement heroes.  We recognize acts of bravery through the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor and the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery.  We must also acknowledge the challenge and value of their service through the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017 and the Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis Act of 2019.  Should tragedy strike, Public Safety Officers’ benefits must be available for the families of officers who lose their lives or are catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

This country asks much of our Federal, State, Tribal, and local police officers and deputies, and it is our solemn responsibility to ensure that those who protect and serve have the training, resources, and support they need to do their jobs well.  My Administration will do everything we can to support the men and women who so courageously protect us.

By a joint resolution approved October 1, 1962, as amended (76 Stat. 676), and by Public Law 103-322, as amended (36 U.S.C. 136-137), the President has been authorized and requested to designate May 15 of each year as ‘Peace Officers Memorial Day’ and the week in which it falls as ‘Police Week.’

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 15, 2021, as Peace Officers Memorial Day and May 9 through May 15, 2021, as Police Week.  I call upon all Americans to observe these events with appropriate ceremonies and activities.  I also call on the Governors of the United States and its Territories, and appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day.  I further encourage all Americans to display the flag from their homes and businesses on that day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventh day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.

The newer proclamation, which you can read here, is the same except the following sentence near the end of the proclamation is omitted: “I also call on the Governors of the United States and its Territories, and appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day.”


States Are Also Lowering Their Flags in Honor of Others Who Have Died

Some states have their own proclamations to remember those who have died.

In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset on May 18 to honor the victims of a mass shooting in Colorado Springs, KKTV reported. Six people were killed and the gunman took his own life in a shooting that was the result of domestic violence. The shooting happened just after midnight on Mother’s Day.

Polis said in a statement: “The tragic shooting in Colorado Springs is devastating, especially as many of us were spending the day celebrating the women in our lives who have made us the people we are today. Multiple lives were taken by this terrible act of violence. Families torn apart, and at a birthday party no less. My deepest condolences and prayers are with the victims, their families, and everyone else impacted by this tragedy.”

In Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont issued a flag half-staff notice until sunset on the day of interment for New Haven firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr. Torres died in the line of duty while responding to a fire.

Lamont said: “On behalf of the State of Connecticut, I send my deepest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of New Haven Firefighter Ricardo Torres, Jr. Today’s tragedy is a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers that firefighters face each and every day when responding to emergencies. Firefighter Torres is a hero, who dedicated his life to the safety of the people of New Haven. My thoughts are also with the firefighters who were injured while responding to this emergency, and I pray for their speedy recovery.”

In Delaware, a flag order is in place through sunset on Tuesday, May 18, to honor former Governor Pierre Samuel “Pete” du Pont IV, who died on May 8. Governor John Carney said in a statement:

Delaware lost a real leader today. Governor Pete du Pont served a single term in the Delaware House of Representatives before representing Delawareans for six years in the U.S. Congress, and going on to serve two terms as Governor. As Governor, he found ways to work across the aisle to address an immediate fiscal crisis and make Delaware more competitive economically. He championed sound fiscal practices, including creating the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council, that have served Delaware well for decades. Working with members of the General Assembly, he signed legislation that helped create the financial services industry in our state, which continues to employ thousands of Delawareans. Governor du Pont was a good and decent man who loved Delaware. Tracey and I are praying for his wife Elise, There, Ben, Pierre, Elise and their entire family.

In Pennsylvania, a flag order has been in place since April 7, 2020. It is in place for an indefinite period of time and includes commonwealth facilities, public grounds and public buildings. The order will last until the pandemic is over.

Governor Tom Wolf said when issuing the order:

Already we have lost friends, parents, grandparents, and siblings. We have lost first responders. We have lost community members. Each of these Pennsylvanians is irreplaceable. Each deserves to be honored individually for their contributions to our commonwealth, but this cruel disease will not give us a respite to mourn. This virus prevents us from honoring the dead at traditional gatherings. We cannot have funerals, wakes, or sit shiva. I hope this flag lowering provides some solace to the grieving families and friends. And, I hope it serves as a reminder of the reason for the sacrifices Pennsylvanians are making to help their community survive this crisis.

In Texas, flags are flying half-staff at all Concho County buildings until sunset on the day of interment for County Constable and Deputy Sheriff Stephen Jones and Deputy Sheriff Samuel Leonard. They were killed in the line of duty. A memorial for Leonard will take place on Monday, May 17, at First Baptist Church of Lamesa, and a service for Jones will be held at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19, at PaulAnn Church in San Angelo, Fox West Texas reported.

Jones and Leonard were killed when responding to a dog complaint on May 10.


Flag Half-Staff Traditions

It’s customary to only display the American flag from sunrise to sunset unless the flag is well illuminated overnight. In those cases, the flag might be displayed 24 hours a day. A number of holidays call for U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff every year. In addition, the president of the United States may order a proclamation for the flags to fly half-staff when someone of prominence dies or when there is a national tragedy. State governors may also call for national flags to be flown at half-staff in their state when a present or former government official dies.

If you’re wondering about the terms half-mast versus half-staff, in the United States half-mast refers to flags being lowered on a ship, while half-staff refers to a pole on the ground or a building, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command’s blog The Sextant. However, outside the United States, the more commonly used term is actually half-mast, according to The Sextant. The terms tend to be used interchangeably in common vernacular.

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