Kansas City suburb may remove ‘Thin Blue Line’ flags honoring police to avoid ‘ambiguous messaging’

The Merriam City Council will decide Monday night whether to remove flags honoring fallen police officers from the city’s Fourth of July display because they might offend someone.

The Kansas City suburb bills its annual Flags 4 Freedom exhibit at the Merriam Marketplace near Merriam and Johnson Drive as “an astonishing display that honors our nation.” It is scheduled to be up June 29-July 6.

The previously volunteer-led, and now city-led, event has been going on since 2006, and in 2018 added “Thin Blue Line” flags honoring KC-area and Kansas law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. It was the idea of a Merriam business owner who wanted to honor another business owner’s relative who died in the line of duty.

But the city council has been formally asked to remove the Thin Blue Line flags from the display going forward, for fear of “ambiguous messaging” that honors law enforcement.

After such concerns were expressed at a meeting last year by Councilman Jason Silvers, the volunteer Flags 4 Freedom committee voted 4-2 last month to recommend the city remove the Thin Blue Line flags from the field of U.S. flags.

The council will decide whether to actually do so at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

Mayor Bob Pape told The Heartlander he was one of the two on the committee voting to retain the flags, but expects the recommendation from the committee’s majority to be approved, and that the law enforcement flags will be removed.

Pape says he hopes it wouldn’t be seen as an insult to the law enforcement community, though he understands why it might be.

“Yes. And that’s my concern,” says Pape, the city’s retired fire chief. “That is truly my No. 1 concern, is that it not be depicted as that. I know some people are going to feel that way, and it pains me to think that they will. And it’s part of the reason why I voted the way I did, is that I just don’t want people to view it that way.

“We as a city love our police department and our fire department, our EMS. We support them wholeheartedly and we always will, regardless of how this vote goes down. I hope it’s not interpreted as a reflection on the support of those individuals.”

Members of the public will be allowed to voice their opinions before the vote. Pape said residents can sign up to speak by calling the city clerk in advance or by signing up at the meeting.

Each of the nearly dozen Thin Blue Line flags in the display has a tag with an officer’s name, date of service and the date he or she was killed in the line of duty.

Pape, who says he may voice his opinion Monday night, but that it’s well known to his council colleagues, is understanding toward those who feel “the American flag represents everybody, whereas the Blue Line flag represents a certain population.” They are likely to suggest honoring fallen officers on Public Safety Day in October instead, he said.

But the mayor, who would vote only in the event of a tie on the eight-member council, says he believes law enforcement officers “literally are protecting our community. Those individuals should be honored in some way.”

Survivors of the fallen understandably feel the same. Sarah Rohrer, whose Wyandotte County sheriff’s deputy husband Patrick Rohrer was murdered along with fellow officer Theresa King in 2018, told Fox4 News that Merriam’s impending decision is “very upsetting, not only to me, but to other family members and friends and other officers.”

Deputy Rohrer’s flag was the very first to go up.

“It means more than anybody really knows, unless you’ve lost a loved one in the line of duty like that,” his widow told Fox4. “My kids have lost enough.”

The other committee member who voted with Pape to keep the flags, Scott Diebold, resigned from the group in protest of its decision.


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