Residents question decal on police vehicles

A village resident has raised concern that a decal on Cold Spring Police Department vehicles could be misconstrued to have racist overtones. 

In an email read by Mayor Dave Merandy during the board’s Tuesday (June 2) meeting by video conference, Patrick Biesemans expressed concern that the image sends the wrong message, especially to minorities. 

The decal depicts a U.S. flag in black-and-white with one of its 13 stripes colored blue. It has been used to show support for law enforcement but also has generated controversy.

During a violent, Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, the flag was raised by white supremacists alongside the Confederate flag.

The flag has been used more widely in association with Blue Lives Matter, a campaign created by some police officers as a response to Black Lives Matter. A group called Blue Lives Matter NYC sells hoodies and T-shirts with the image.

Last year, the police department in Germantown, Maryland, removed a donated thin-blue-line flag after a public outcry. In December, flags appeared outside two police stations in New York City, prompting similar protests. And on May 31, in Hamilton County, Ohio, the sheriff’s department flew the flag following days of unrest in Cincinnati, prompting a rebuke from the county commissioner, who said, “I know I am not alone in my view that flying the flag was provocative and inappropriate, especially in the context of this weekend’s events.”

At the Cold Spring Village Board meeting, Trustee Steve Voloto noted that “it is the exact flag of the white nationalist group that came out in response to Black Lives Matter” at the Charlottesville rally. He acknowledged that police departments fly the flag “to show support for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. That’s why our guys have them on their cars.” 

But, he said, “Did they not know the history? Did they have it before and the [white supremacists] used it as their symbol? It doesn’t belong on our cars with what’s going on in the world. If the stupid bumper sticker pisses people off, take it off the cars. Why are we even talking about it? Pick a sticker that has more positive meaning.” 

The thin-blue-line flag is seen by some as a tribute and others as a rebuke

Trustee Lynn Miller said that because the flag’s meaning is open to interpretation, she would favor removing it from the police vehicles. 

“It’s kind of bad form to take our American flag and represent it differently,” she said. “That actually is against the flag code. Don’t put symbols on police cars that are going to be divisive. Put a shield that says ‘To protect and serve,’ or something that celebrates the dedication of our cops to our community. Put an American flag.

“I don’t see how it helps anything, especially with the events of this past week,” she added, referring to the death last month in Minneapolis of a black man, George Floyd, while in police custody, and the protests and clashes that have occurred around the country since. 

“We have great cops,” Miller said. “But we should remove all barriers that might prevent anyone from approaching them for help.” 

Trustee Fran Murphy disagreed. “I am in favor of leaving them; it shows support for our police,” she said. “People can read anything into anything; there are different definitions and meanings. No one put them there out of anything racist.” 

Larry Burke, the officer-in-charge of the Cold Spring Police Department, said he added the decals to the vehicles about a year ago and acknowledged that some people misunderstand their intent.

“It doesn’t mean the blue line of silence: it means we are respecting all officers killed in the line of duty,” he said. Opposition to the decals “is a knee-jerk reaction” because of the protests, he said. 

Burke said that while the thin blue line may have been “hijacked” by extremist groups, he would push back on having the decals removed but would abide by whatever the Village Board decided. “I’m not looking to offend anyone by putting them on our police cars,” he said. 

flag in charlottesville
White supremacists at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 hoisted a thin-blue-line flag, at center. (Photo by Christopher Mathias)

Many of the spectators at the Zoom meeting said via chat that they were offended by the decals, Murphy said, a reaction she also said she felt was heightened by the current unrest. 

Merandy said the board needs “a bit more time” to consider the issue and to research the meaning behind the symbol. “This is all new to me; I want to do the right thing here,” he said. 

“We support our police,” Merandy said, adding that if the decals are removed it would not mean that the CSPD officers are not appreciated. 

The mayor, who rarely comments on national issues, said he finds the situation across the nation disturbing. “I don’t want to fan the flames that are burning our whole nation,” he said. “It’s a sad situation. It’s incredibly disturbing and I can’t believe how low we are going, or where the bottom is. Some people say there is no bottom and maybe that’s true. We are not headed in the right direction. Hopefully we can find a leader that can turn this around.

“This is just a terrible situation. From my point of view, being mayor of our little town, what I saw on those films was — I think ‘repugnant’ sums it up pretty much.”

Reopening the village

If the metrics remain on track, the Mid-Hudson Region could begin Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan on Tuesday (June 9). Merandy and trustees outlined what residents can expect when the next phase begins:

  • Riverfront Park, Dockside Park and Mayor’s Park will reopen on weekends but with possible restrictions. The Tot Park will remain closed. 
  • The board passed a resolution prohibiting sandwich board signs or merchandise on Main Street sidewalks. 
  • Main Street sidewalks will feature one-way pedestrian traffic arrows.
  • Signs on Main will reinforce mask and social distancing requirements.
  • The state’s reopening guidelines must be posted in each shop. 
  • Some Main Street benches will be removed, especially in areas with narrow sidewalks. The dead tree in front of Hudson Hils will be removed and replaced by brick.
  • The municipal parking lot on Fair Street will reopen. 
  • New York State Parks will reopen, although the beach at Little Stony Point will remain closed. 
  • The Justice Court will reopen with restrictions. 
  • Village boards and committees will resume meeting via video-conference with small meetings possible in the courtroom.
  • Village Hall will reopen July 1, with meetings with the clerk by appointment only until then. 
Nico Lagerman
Nico Lagerman hangs a poster distributed by the Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce in the window of The Current office on Main Street. (Photo by M. Turton)

Big events

Laura Drummond, the organizer of the Putnam County Wine and Food Festival scheduled for August, and John Scherer, who had planned to hold a Hops-on-the-Hudson event in July, each emailed the village, asking the board to reconsider its May 26 decision to not allow any large events until at least September. 

The board did not reverse either decision, although Trustee Marie Early supported reconsidering Scherer’s event, which she described as well-organized and reasonable.

Scherer attended Tuesday’s meeting to plead his case. He and Merandy engaged in an animated exchange, with Scherer continuing to press the mayor for flexibility. 

Clearly agitated, Merandy responded, “We are the representatives of this village and safety is paramount. Did you not hear anything I said — the part about 500 people coming to our village?”

Scherer countered that his event would be a controlled environment and concluded sarcastically, saying, “I appreciate your time, thanks for being so considerate, and you have a good night. Bye-bye, Dave!” He returned later and apologized for his abrupt exit, but hinted he will look for a new venue. 

Main Street

Rock Street resident Ryan Trow said he has spoken with at least 20 business owners who support his idea of closing all or parts of Main Street on Fridays and Saturdays to help stores, and later restaurants, to limit customers to 50 percent of capacity. “It would make a substantial difference in their ability to remain viable for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Trow said the limited-capacity rule could be in place until there’s a vaccine, and that many business owners say they cannot be viable with that restriction. He warned of empty storefronts that would take years to be reoccupied.

“If we can be innovative we can compete with the villages and towns that surround us that are already thinking about these types of plans,” Trow said. 

He said he had sent a concept map to Merandy that calls for closing Main Street to vehicles. A less-aggressive approach could include sections of the traveled portion of the street and some sections of parking. 

The board said it would discuss Trow’s proposal at its Tuesday (June 9) meeting. 

Merandy said he has thought about closing Main but that Trow’s plan presents a number of concerns, such as pushing traffic to sides streets and the need to route Metro-North traffic through Forge Gate Condominiums, which is private property. He also pointed to weekend business deliveries and the impact the closure would have on residents of Main Street. 

“But I’m willing to listen,” he said. “I’m interested in seeing how it will work.”

Village resident Tara Vamos said she has also submitted plans for the board’s consideration, including making Main Street one way and eliminating at least one lane of parking.

In other business…

Recycling placed in plastic bags will no longer be picked up by the Highway Department. Recycling must be placed in bins, garbage cans or paper bags. The village also plans this summer to phase out plastic bags for yard and lawn debris.

Tax bills, which were mailed this past week, may be paid without penalty through June 30 by dropping payments  in the mail slot at Village Hall or by mailing them to Village of Cold Spring, 85 Main St., Cold Spring NY 10516. Only checks or money orders are accepted. Taxes unpaid as of July 1 will incur a 5 percent penalty for the first month and an additional 1 percent for each month or fraction thereof until paid. Village Hall will be open on Fridays in June between the hours of 9 a.m. to noon for tax payments. It remains closed for all other matters but is scheduled to reopen on July 1.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Turton, who has been a reporter for The Current since its founding in 2010, moved to Philipstown from his native Ontario in 1998. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Cold Spring government, features

15 replies on “Wide Views of Thin Blue Line”

  1. I commend Mayor Dave Merandy for taking time to review the thin-blue-line flag matter. The opposition to the flag is a knee-jerk reaction to the horrific actions of several officers in the Floyd killing. The flag is a memorial to those officers who have been hurt or killed in protecting us and our families. The thin blue line has been around for years, but most recently as a memorial to two NYPD officers who were assassinated while sitting in their patrol car. Both officers were minority members. The flag has come to represent the good officers do.

    The flag decals have been on Cold Spring Police Department cars for a year, so why now? Did local officers execute a horrific act? Why insult them? Let’s not bring the hate to our area communities. Support those who act responsibly while protecting us. Last week they were heroes, like all first responders during this virus crisis. What changed? Fire departments have the same flag with a red stripe. White is EMS, gold is dispatchers, green is military, gray is corrections, red and white are nurses, etc. Is this a problem, too?

    Thank you, Dave and Trustee Fran Murphy, for being able to sort it out and take time to evaluate the facts. I’m a recently retired Cold Spring officer who for 22 years always treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I considered Cold Spring my home and its residents my friends. And yes, if you’re offended, I’m offended, too, that you would subvert a respectful item into an object of hate.

  2. The Current refers in its story to “the death last month in Minneapolis of a black man, George Floyd, while in police custody.” Respectfully, I think you are drastically understating the gravity of the incident. The police officer, Derek Chauvin, clearly in-tentionally knelt on George Floyd’s neck until Floyd died. There is uninterrupted video of the incident. Chauvin’s colleagues prevented bystanders from intervening. That’s on video, too.

    While I understand that The Current may want to be cautious in describing the incident and avoid potential liability, I can see no fault in calling this act of murder a murder. The attorney general of Minnesota is calling it a second-degree murder. Can The Current not do the same?

  3. I wrote the mayor regarding this concern, being fully aware of what the thin-blue-line flag has meant. But unfortunately — like many symbols that people should be proud of, and have pride for — the thin blue line has been appropriated by several white supremacist groups. Many protesters also associate the symbol with the thin blue line of silence, which means no matter how bad a cop behaves, his fellow officers will remain silent.

    There are alternatives to this divisive logo. As a person of mixed heritage, who doesn’t plan on going anywhere, I hope that the mayor and trustees recognize the opportunity to ease what could be unnecessary tension between our law enforcement and people of color, whether residents or visitors.

  4. I am the mother of a New York Police Department deputy inspector and the mother-in-law of a retired NYPD aviation lieutenant and am beyond proud of the fine professionals they are. My father was in law enforcement in the family courts of New York City. A more compassionate and honorable man never lived.

    On 9/11, I was in Manhattan, volunteering at the armory, serving affected families, observing many officers. Does anyone remember those police? Those police who ran into buildings; the police like my daughter and son-in-law, who on their days off jumped into their cars and headed toward the devastation, into a dangerous unknown; my son-in-law in his helicopter frantically hoping they could rescue people from the rooftops — people who never appeared.

    These are the same police. The thin blue line honors them. The flag is the symbol of their gallantry and sacrifice. Let’s not continue the abhorrent policy of rewriting history for the whims of the moment: tearing down statues, banning books, silencing opinions. These actions are the antithesis of the American spirit.

  5. I am grateful to Patrick Biesemans for bringing our attention to the blue line decal that was placed on the flag on the Cold Spring Police Department cars just over a year ago. Mr. Biesemans has created a space for all of us to sit with the uncomfortable feelings that arise in us when we are asked to face our painful history around race relations. Let’s not waste this opportunity to face our demons.

    Nowhere do race relations arise with more fear and rage in our country than they do around policing. That is no accident. There is deep interrelated trauma in both our police forces and in our communities of color going back 400 years. The very painful reality is that to build our railroads and farm our cotton, our ancestors created an interrelated system of black slavery and white slave enforcement. Into the remnants of that baseline system we have all been born. That system is in our bones, with the moral and physical traumas passed down and replayed generation after generation, as the science of epigenetics has shown.

    A few years ago, a black man in his 60s told me that every time he had to drive through Cold Spring his blood pressure rose and he began shaking. To really feel that level of terror in a grown man was devastating to me. That is the reality for people of color driving through Cold Spring. At this moment in our history, I believe that fact bears the most weight in determining whether these particular police cars should display the thin blue line. While we must also acknowledge and address the deep trauma suffered by law enforcement, I don’t think that is the place to do it.

  6. No pun intended, but this is not a black-and-white issue. All cops are not bad. There are plenty of good cops doing their best to serve and protect. They deserve our support. But there are also far too many bad cops throughout this nation, who must be identified and removed from the ranks. There should be absolutely no place for violent bigots in this country’s police forces. [via Facebook]

  7. I found the decals inappropriate when they first appeared, and I know many of my neighbors felt the same way. The only thing that has changed is the wider realization that the police do not control the people, the people control the police. Every police department in America must distinguish itself as an independent, specific resource dedicated to the unique community it serves. This is one way to start.

  8. This is how I interpret those altered flag decals: I’m wary of police who display the Blue Lives Matter messaging. Perhaps there’s another way to show support and solidarity for police that doesn’t come across as a dog whistle or a call to fascism to a significant portion of our citizenry.

    I’m not anti-cop, I’m pro-justice, and I don’t think it’s controversial to say, “Hey, a lot of Americans have a negative interpretation of the thin-blue-line flag due to its numerous associations with white supremacist activity, as well as the fact that the FBI has reported that white supremacists have been infiltrating law enforcement forces across the country. Even though we interpret this symbol as support for our fallen brothers and sisters, unfortunately a lot of the people we are sworn to protect and serve have a much different notion of it, and it makes them distrustful. How can we approach this so the public understands we are not against them?” [via Facebook]

  9. Blue Lives Matter was created in reaction to Black Lives Matter, so when you’re repping the Blue Lives Matter decal, it gives off the message that the black communities’ struggles are invalid. At a pressing time like this, when human rights and police brutality are a big debate, supporting one specific side says a lot about someone’s character. [via Facebook]

  10. There’s no such thing as “blue lives.” Becoming a police officer is a profession. It’s not comparable to being killed because of the color of your skin. We are thankful to officers who have given their lives to serve and protect, but fallen officers can be remembered in a way that isn’t antagonistic to communities of color.

    The association of the flag with Blue Lives Matter is what causes the tension. Blue Lives Matter was created in response to Black Lives Matter and creates an “us vs. them” mentality that is not helpful. There are other ways to remember fallen officers than a modified flag that didn’t exist 10 years ago. [via Facebook]

  11. I was born and raised in this town and am the daughter of a retired police officer. I am embarrassed and appalled at this. Shame on you, Cold Spring! [via Facebook]

  12. Why is the decal now a problem? We can support police officers and their feeling while still advocating for change. Officers of all ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations fly this flag or post it on their cars. Every time I see it, I think of friends who died protecting that line and friends who have been injured or made some sacrifice for it. Racists also fly the American flag. [via Facebook]

  13. I’m a lifelong resident of Cold Spring, and my grandparents and great-grandparents lived here and owned businesses here. They would be beside themselves to know the lack of respect that is being spewed through this village. People need to find stupid things to complain about a bit too often. The request to remove these decals should never have even been entertained. The Village Board should have simply moved on to the next item on the agenda. [via Facebook]

  14. This is about police cars, not police officers, and how the sticker is perceived in general, and especially when placed on police vehicles. Police should be supported. At the same time, these stickers represent racism to many people. When I see the stickers, I think it would be great if people could come out of their corners and focus less on being “right” and more on being decent human beings. [via Facebook]

  15. If Black Lives Matters changed the flag for its political message, conservative heads would explode. Blue Lives Matters wasn’t a spontaneous campaign; the message was that officers didn’t want change or oversight. Like a Confederate flag, at least part of its intent is to make certain people uncomfortable. Continuing to use it despite that sends a clear message.

    Police officers should care about the messages they send and how they are going to be perceived. It seems like they don’t. Officers are asked to do too much: Drug addiction, mental illness, legal military-grade weapons on the street and crime directly related to severe poverty all fall on cops to deal with, while the root causes for these problems are made worse by conservative policies of shortsighted fund-cutting. [via Facebook]

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