City of Merriam disses cops, drops LEO flag from exhibit

Waves of sorrow and fury have followed Merriam City Council’s 6-2 vote to remove Thin Blue Line flags honoring fallen police officers from the city’s annual Flags 4 Freedom exhibit.

Monday’s decision follows last month’s recommendation from the volunteer Flags 4 Freedom planning committee. The committee took up the issue after Councilman Jason Silvers reportedly expressed concerns about the flag’s meaning at a meeting last year, with the city reporting he “felt a city-sponsored event should be mindful of any ambiguous messaging, intentional or not.”

As reported previously by The Heartlander, the flags have been on display at the Fourth of July event since 2018 to honor law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty from Kansas and the Kansas City area. 

This year the city is assuming responsibility for the event, which had previously been run by volunteers.

Merriam City Manager Chris Engel agreed with Silvers and the committee, calling on the council to “concur with the recommendation of the Flags 4 Freedom planning committee” to remove the flags from the event.

“At a joint meeting of the volunteer committee and City Council, the Thin Blue Line flags were brought up by a councilmember as being problematic for a city-sponsored event,” Engel wrote in a statement. “While the displayed ‘Thin Blue Line’ flags are representative of actual people that have made the ultimate sacrifice, for others, those flags represent something less honorable and feel that a city-sponsored event should be mindful of any ambiguous messaging, intentional or not.”

Despite their support for removing the flags honoring fallen officers, Engel and Silvers stated their support for law enforcement, recommending a separate exhibit for fallen police later – though it’s not clear how some in the public will be less confused or offended by it than the Fourth of July display.

“If the City Council concurs with the recommendation, city staff and volunteers will only install American flags for the duration of the Flags 4 Freedom event,” Engel continued. “To continue the tradition of honoring those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, city staff recommends a new flag display to occur on the Municipal Campus during the week of National First Responders Day which occurs each October. During this display, city staff will fly flags representative of all first responders.”

“I fully support the police, our Merriam officers, and I hold deep respect for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Silvers told FOX4. “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.”

Slain officer’s family speaks out

Critics of the decision aren’t so appreciative of the efforts to fix a problem they don’t see as an issue, and can’t help but take the decision personally – especially those who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.

“It’s been five years, 333 days and 3,110,400 minutes since my father’s untimely murder,” said Emma Rohrer, daughter of Wyandotte County Deputy Sheriff Patrick Rohrer, who was shot and killed in the line of duty on June 15, 2018. 

“Why is the flag that is a small and simple gesture of the remembrance of my dead father such an issue?” she asked. “Why should one of the only signs of what my father [was] be taken away?”

Rohrer’s widow, Sarah Rohrer, also weighed in with her deep sadness at the city’s decision.

“When I read the words ‘less than honorable’ in the city of Merriam agenda regarding the flags that [stand] for the officers who died protecting our cities, I was not only heartbroken, I was disgusted.”

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, spokesperson for the National Police Association, was utterly appalled by Merriam’s action.

“By stating that the thin blue line flag is something less than honorable is truly offensive, especially this week,” she told The Heartlander, noting it is National Police Memorial Week and that 282 names have just been added to the over 24,000 on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“This is just so incredibly disrespectful of the fallen, of the families, and of law enforcement in general around the county and around the state.”

As for “ambiguous messaging” by honoring fallen police officers, Smith says, “There’s absolutely nothing ambiguous about the Thin Blue Line flag. It is merely, and has been for decades, a symbol of honor and respect for the profession, and especially for those who have sacrificed. 

“You know, the far-left activists tried to hijack the Thin Blue Line flag in 2014 [after the Ferguson, Missouri shooting] – and then really ramped it up in 2020 [after George Floyd’s death] and tried to call it – and this is so insane – a symbol of white supremacy and a symbol of oppression. …

“Who are they hoping to touch with this ridiculous and maddening decision? Who is it that they are pandering to? I’d love to know.”

‘Absolutely inexplicable’

The Heartlander asked Smith if Merriam’s decision runs counter to recent trends in which defunding and denigrating law enforcement has fallen out of favor even in big-city liberal strongholds.

“Yeah,” she said. “There’s Gallup polling that shows that people are more and more pro-police – that they have had more and more positive interactions with the police – across all racial lines and genders.

“You know, this is something that we saw cowardly leaders do in 2020 and 2021, including police leaders – take the Thin Blue Line flag out of roll-call rooms, off of police officers’ uniforms, off of their vehicles.  

“But to do this now – in 2024, when 60,000 police officers will be assaulted this year? We’ve already had 145 police officers shot so far this year. We’ve had 58 line-of-duty deaths this year so far. We’re on a horrible, horrible trajectory. 

“So, to do this now is absolutely inexplicable.”

Former Wyandotte County Sheriff Don Ash was similarly perplexed, telling reporters he doesn’t believe the flag is racist at all, as some have claimed.

“Follow the truth and do the morally correct thing and keep this celebration that so many people have come to love and appreciate and participate in, and keep it active here,” he said.

Nearby Clay County, Missouri, Sheriff Will Akin ripped the decision, calling it political pandering and warning not only is it divisive, it could be downright dangerous. 

“I don’t understand why a governing body would ban a symbol that shows respect and solidarity for law enforcement,” he told The Heartlander. “To say that the presence of the Thin Blue Line flags represent ‘something less honorable’ is just a word-smithed way of saying someone may be offended by them. What does ‘less honorable’ even mean, anyway? 

“How about just taking the stance of supporting your law enforcement and not caving to political pressure? We don’t ban the American flag and we all know there are people who feel offended by that one. Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong with our law enforcement. We need to support them, show that we care for them, and what they do for us on a daily basis. Without them, who would willingly stand between [us and] those who wish to do us harm, help us when we are at our most vulnerable, safeguard our communities, and protect our way of life?

“It certainly won’t be the people who were offended. I think it’s safe to say that any governing body that risks isolating the one team that safeguards their communities should consider some introspection.”

Michael Dillon – The Heartlander