Symbols are not defined by the worst people who use them

Have you ever been in a room with a group of people who are held in a metaphorical prison by one person?

Let’s say you are in a meeting or class, and it is somebody’s turn to speak. The person is long winded and frequently wastes everyone’s time with unproductive babbling.

What follows is as predictable as you might imagine. They go on. And on.

At that moment in time, everyone in the room is silently groaning. There might even be a knowing look shot between some people in silent acknowledgment of everyone’s collective misery.

No one in that room wants to hear this anymore. And yet, the person goes on, and no one stops them, despite the universal desire of everyone else in the room to do just that.

You’ve all been in that room. This is an experience we all share.

Why does this happen? One person holds the entire room hostage, and despite having the capability of stopping it, the disgruntled super-majority sits idly by.

The answer is pretty simple. To stop this person, you would have to be rude to them and risk your own standing with both the person and the group as a whole to put a stop to it. You’d have to say something unkind.

Nobody likes that kind of confrontation. We think somebody should stand up and say something, but nobody actually wants to be that somebody.

This phenomenon, whereby a large majority of opinion holders are held hostage by a very small number of people with fringe ideas or crazy behaviors, is becoming increasingly pervasive in our society, and it isn’t just in your afternoon staff meeting.

Last week, tens of thousands of Mainers shook their heads as we opened up our Bangor Daily News to read an article about a York widow who was forced to remove a “Thin Blue Line” flag amid accusations of — of course — racism.

A Thin Blue Line flag, put up on a telephone pole in York by the family of Trooper Charles Black who was killed in the line of duty 55 years ago this month, has been taken down after concerns that it could be sending a racist message. Deborah McDermott | The York Weekly

The flag, for the uninitiated, is an extension of a recent pro-police movement in the last couple years known as the “Thin Blue Line,” which originated from the recent impression that law enforcement has been demonized in this country. People want to recognize how essential the police are, and express their support.

This is a message — a statement of thanks and appreciation to police — that virtually no one with any common sense finds offensive. It should not be a source of controversy.

The flag in York was put up by the family of Mary Andrews, whose husband Trooper Charles Black was killed in the line of duty more than 50 years ago. It was meant to honor his sacrifice, and reiterate how much love and appreciation they have for Black, and all police.

“Thank you, we remember you.” It was a message that virtually everyone who saw the flag understood rather easily.

Everyone but the York Diversity Forum, however. They saw the flag and raised concerns about the message it sent because an incredibly small group of extremist psychopaths, specifically in Charlottesville, decided to wave the same flag. This means we now we have to eliminate the symbol from society, so as to not “send the wrong message.”

It doesn’t matter that millions of these branded items are sold to people who simply want to express support to police, and aren’t even aware that a few racist scumbags own them too. No, what matters is that small group.

This move to destroy all symbols ever seen being used by bad people — pervasive not only here, but in the Betsy Ross flag controversy, as well as the Chris Pratt Gadsden Flag issue — is, ironically, counterproductive in the fight against white supremacy.

By giving the power of ownership to any small group of extremists, allowing them to now claim it as theirs, you are elevating them and aiding the growth of their extreme ideology.

99.9 percent of people who see a Thin Blue Line flag understand and believe that it is a statement of support to police. The remaining 0.1 percent have a different meaning in mind and seek to use it for their own purposes.

By allowing that 0.1 percent to own the symbol and its meaning, they have given those people great power. They have also maligned those who see and espouse its true meaning as somehow sharing the point of view of that tiny group of extremists.

And caught in middle is a poor widow who saw her harmless, sweet memorial to her fallen husband tainted and degraded without cause.

Shame on everyone who contributed to that happening. But perhaps shame on us most of all. Shame for staying silent and this kind of thing to happen unchallenged. At some point, we need to risk standing up and saying, “enough.”

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.