DANVERS — Town Meeting members voted on Monday to take no action on a proposal that called for fire trucks and other public safety apparatus to be allowed to fly “Thin Blue Line” flags.
The voice vote was taken during a Special Town Meeting held at the Danvers High School field house. Several people spoke passionately both for and against the warrant article.
Article 6 was the result of a citizens’ petition filed by the “Citizens to Restore Respect of First Responders in the Town of Danvers,” which was formed by several residents after Town Manager Steve Bartha ordered the flags’ removal from town fire trucks in August. According to Keith Lucy, a founding member of the group and former selectman in town, petitioning the town to allow a vote on the “Thin Blue Line” issue is the group’s first action.
“Thin Blue Line” flags, a grayed-out American flag with a blue line through the middle, first appeared on town fire trucks in August. In a statement, Bartha said he requested the removal of the flags after he received a complaint from a resident.
“As local government officials and public servants, our responsibility is to work in support of all residents of and visitors to Danvers regardless of their belief systems or lived experiences,” he said in the statement. “When we as public servants, through speech, actions, or the symbols we display, have intentionally or unintentionally undermined the confidence of marginalized members of our community, we are obligated to act.”
The decision sparked controversy. The Danvers Firefighters Association released its own statement opposing the decision, saying the flag is not political and has been displayed on town fire trucks since 2018, after Weymouth police Officer Michael Chesna was killed in the line of duty. The union later clarified this to say that a decal with a different representation of the “thin blue line,” a black box with a blue line through the middle, had been displayed for the past two years, and the flags were only recently placed on the trucks.
During an Oct. 6 meeting of the Select Board, Lucy confirmed that the flag the warrant article intends to reference is the grayed-out American flag.
Richard Trask was among several Town Meeting members who spoke in opposition of the warrant article Monday night.
He said voting against the article is “not a horrible act of disrespect. This is an ultimate show of respect for who we want to be in the town of Danvers: Inclusive, thoughtful and respectful.”
Trask added that by voting in opposition to the article, Danvers would “continue to be a town in which we support each other in the thoughts and feelings of out fellow citizens and friends.”
On the other side, Lucy argued that by flying the “Thin Blue Line” flag, the town would be sending a message to police officers and other public safety officers that they are welcome and supported in Danvers.
“The current situation that law enforcement is experiencing makes this more urgent for all first responders,” he said, citing instances of violence in other parts of the country targeted at police.
Town Meeting members also voted unanimously to support Warrant Article 2, which calls for the town to “express its appreciation and support of Danvers first responders and their families,” “reaffirm its commitment to providing the training, tools, and equipment necessary to protect their health and safety and the health and safety of community members,” “acknowledge the vital role first responders have and continue to play as essential workers in the midst of this global pandemic,” and “express its condolences and deep sense of gratitude for those first responders who make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Town Meeting member Mark Zuberek proposed an amendment that would have added a line to encourage the Select Board to “act expeditiously to find an appropriate and meaningful way to specifically recognize law enforcement in the town of Danvers,” but the amendment did not pass.
“I wholeheartedly support Article 2 as written, but it needed some teeth to it,” Zuberek said.
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.