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‘Thin blue line’ flag removed from Kansas city’s July 4 celebration

MERRIAM, Kan. (NewsNation) — While the “thin blue line” flag symbolizes the loss of life in the line of duty, it is now at the center of political controversy.

The flag has become a dividing factor in some communities, specifically in Merriam, Kansas where a five-year tradition of displaying the remembrance flags no longer exists.

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Merriam City Council voted 6-2 Monday night to allow only American flags to fly at the city’s “Flags 4 Freedom” event around the Independence Day holiday beginning this year.

The event was started in 2006 in response to the September 11th attacks by volunteers and was called Healing Fields. Original organizers said Monday the last thing the event was ever supposed to do was divide.

For the past six years, fallen officers have been honored at Merriam’s 4th of July event with “thin blue line” flags bearing the name of each new fallen law enforcement member added to the list.

However, the flag has since become a political issue. Plus, this is the first year the event will be run by the city and not just volunteers.

‘Thin blue line’ controversy

Councilman Jason Silvers questioned whether the flags were appropriate for a city-sponsored event in a joint meeting with volunteers last month.

“I fully support the police, our Merriam officers, and I hold deep respect for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. To clarify, I proposed that we return the Flags 4 Freedom display at Merriam Marketplace to its original purpose of honoring all. To achieve this, I recommended relocating the blue line flag to a place of honor in front of the police station, specifically dedicated to those it represents,” Silvers said in a statement to NewsNation affiliate WDAF.

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Merriam Mayor Bob Pape told NewsNation that the flag had become associated with the riots on Jan. 6, 2021, after many of those flags were flown before the Capital by white extremists in support of police departments. Plus, he said they are often seen at campaign rallies for President Donald Trump, signaling support for the far-right political party.

Plus, Pape said there were questions about why other first responder agencies weren’t being honored equally with flags, including firefighters and EMS.

The “Flags 4 Freedom Committee” voted to limit displays to the American flag, which Pape said likely influenced the city council to vote in favor of the recommendation.

The city administrator says it’s not political, merely an administrative issue.

For many Merriam residents, it’s personal

“It’s been five years, 333 days and 3,110,400 minutes since my father’s untimely murder,” Emma Rohrer, Deputy Patrick Rohrer’s daughter, now a high school freshman, said.

Rohrer continued, “Why is the flag that is a small and simple gesture of the remembrance of my dead father such an issue? Why should one of the only signs of what my father was be taken away?”

The Rohrer family and others spoke out against the plan to remove those flags and only fly approximately 1,200 American flags on Monday.

“I absolutely think that our audience was very passionate and personally affected many of them,” Pape said. “I was not surprised at the reaction itself once the vote was taken — about six to two — to remove those. I was saddened by that vote. I personally would like to have kept the flags in the field.”

Pape said that for him, it was a step too far to remove those flags that honored individuals who lost their lives from the field.

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A retired firefighter and fire chief himself, Pape understood what it meant to put his life on the line for the community. Plus, he’s personally experienced the loss of a fellow firefighter in the line of duty. He explained that he had a stronger tie to the topic than most of the council members, reiterating that he would have kept the flags if it were up to him.

“I saw all the disheartening and the sadness on the individuals in that audience and to have over 40 people speak all in favor of keeping those flags, I felt that we let the community down and I don’t know that we actually reflected what their true beliefs are on those flags,” Pape said.

Pape acknowledged that some people believe that the thin blue line flag is divisive, but he said he does not look at it that way.

“I think it stands for supporting our police officers and thinking you’re honoring and acknowledging those who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their life in the line of duty,” he said.

NewsNation affiliate WDAF contributed to this report.