Chardon school shooting survivor reacts to ’thin blue line’ flag controversy

Updated: Sep. 1, 2020 at 10:32 PM EDT
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CHARDON, Ohio (WOIO) - Was it a show of racism or just an innocent attempt to show support for police officers? The Chardon High School football team is at the center of the debate.

It all started on social media following a Friday night football game here at Chardon High School, after football players carried a “thin blue line” American flag onto the field.

The thin blue line in this flag is meant to symbolize that police officers stand between order and chaos, but the flag has been known to fan the flames between pro-police supporters and Black Lives Matter activists.

Chardon’s Superintendent Michael Hanlon said bringing the flag to school events could be interpreted as a racially motivated action.

“The situation has kind of advanced over the past couple days, and it’s kind of became an onion on multiple levels. And, at first, I was kind of bummed out because it seemed like Chardon was being labeled as a racist town somehow,” said Nate Mueller, an alumnus of the high school. He was shot in the ear at just 16 years old by T.J. Lane in 2012.

Hanlon said the school developed a special relationship with law enforcement after first responders were called to the February 2012 high school shooting that left three dead and three others injured, but said the flag of pro-police sentiment is not acceptable at athletic contests because of its racist connotations.

“I am infuriated that the superintendent has the nerve to bring up the shooting to try to get out of a cornered position politically,” Mueller said.

Mueller does believe there needs to be more accountability for police officers nationwide, but he also doesn’t think showing support for our first responders should automatically be viewed as racist.

Chardon Police Chief Scott Niehus shared his thoughts about the incident on social media, “Last Friday night, in a show of support for one of their coaches who also serves as a police officer, and in recognition of first responders throughout our community, the Hilltopper football team carried a thin blue line flag onto the football field with them. Our officers appreciated the show of support demonstrated by the players, as this has been an incredibly difficult and challenging time for many law enforcement officers across the country.

In Chardon, we have enjoyed a special relationship with our schools that extends back to 1947, during the earliest days of the police department, and with Chief John Bohl. Chief Bohl loved children, and he understood the importance of maintaining a positive relationship between police officers and children. Chief Bohl is credited with starting a crossing guard program, and he was frequently found in the schools interacting with students. Over the years our officers have routinely interacted with our schools at all levels. We have provided Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) instruction to Chardon Students for over 30 years. Additionally, for the last eight years the City and School have collaborated to fund a School Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to the High School. The SRO can also frequently be found in the Middle and Elementary Schools interacting with students. Our bond with the school system and Chardon students became even more intense in the wake of the school tragedy of February 27, 2012. As a Police Department we appreciate the relationship that we have with the Chardon Local Schools including the administration, staff, and most especially the students.

We recognize that the Thin Blue Line represents either the best of, or worst of, what our profession has to offer depending a person’s point of view. We understand that people frame what the line means to them based on a perspective that is unique to their own experiences with law enforcement. The officers of the Chardon police department strive to represent the best of what law enforcement officers should be. To us, the thin blue line represents the strength and courage of officers working together as a profession to make our community safe. We certainly recognize that we are blessed to live in a community that graciously supports the stressful job that law enforcement officers do, the very difficult situations that we respond to, and the many sacrifices that are made by our officers and their families.

This support is evidenced by the numerous telephone calls and messages of support that we’ve received over the last 24 hours, and the hundreds of positive comments about law enforcement that have been posted on social media regarding this situation. It’s most important that we don’t lose sight that the members of the Chardon Police Department equally serve all persons who require our assistance without regard to race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender expression. When called upon we will respond. We will perform our mission as guided by our core values, and the principles of service, justice and fundamental fairness. That’s who we are, and that’s what our community expects of us.”

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