Hamilton Activist Group Leads Effort to Remove Controversial Flag

In a letter to the Madison County Board of Supervisors, the Hamilton Area Anti-Racism Coalition (HAARC) demanded the removal of the thin blue line flag currently waving at the Madison County Jail and Sheriff’s Office. A petition to remove the thin blue line flag from Madison County offices reached 1,040 signatures over the course of three weeks as of Feb. 9. 

Supporters of the thin blue line flag — a black-and-white American flag with a single blue line — say it is flown to show support for members of law enforcement. Recently, however, the flag has been tied to white supremacy movements, as reported by The Marshall Project.

“The HAARC had been discussing [the thin blue line flag] for a while,” HAARC member John Bailey said. “Not everybody thinks it represents the police; a lot of people think it’s the pushback on Black Lives Matter, and therefore it’s divisive.”

Bailey said he noticed the flag in the summer of 2020 when the HAARC became involved with the Madison County Sheriff’s police reform project. Upon arriving at the Madison County Jail to hand-deliver the results of the HAARC survey on policing, Bailey saw the flag.

“There on the flag pole there is the American flag on the American flag pole, then the thin blue line flag,” Bailey said. “I thought ‘Man, that’s pretty awful to have that up there,’ but they didn’t think it was awful.”

Later, on a public Zoom meeting with the sheriff, Bailey raised his concern with the flag’s presence at county offices. Bailey recalled feeling angered when his concerns were dismissed.

“And then Jan. 6 came along. Here are images of that flag all over the [U.S. Capitol], and then I dug a little deeper, and [at] Charlottesville, Va., ‘Unite the Right,’ [there are] thin blue line flags, and white supremacists have appropriated that flag. So it really got me going, and it really got me upset,” he said.

Bailey’s next step was writing a letter to the Madison County Board of Supervisors.

“We all have watched the images of the mob breaching the U.S. Capitol Building, disrupting our constitutional process, threatening the lives of our elected officials and murdering a Capitol police officer,” Bailey wrote in his Jan. 13 letter. “In those images, I noticed some of the symbols that this mob was brandishing. One in particular was the presence of the ‘Thin Blue Line flag’ waving prominently in the crowd.”

Bailey explained how symbols can change and how society should collectively accept that the thin blue line flag no longer represents what it was intended to represent. 

 “No matter what this flag originally represented, it is now and will forever be part of one of the

worst days in our country’s history! This flag is now a symbol of anarchy, racism and insurrection,” Bailey wrote. “The Thin Blue line flag has become a symbol of division!” 

On Jan. 19, Bailey and the HAARC received a response from Chairman of Madison County Board of Supervisors John M. Becker.

“While we certainly appreciate the diversity of opinion, something our great country was founded on, we at Madison County take offense to HAARC’s demand to remove the Thin Blue Line flag from our County complexes,” Chairman Becker’s letter states. “We support our men and women in uniform who help and protect us every day, whether it is because you were in a car accident, a neighbor dispute, drug investigations, a wellness check, or assisting new parents with properly installing a car seat. These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day for us. We fly this flag to show our support for them.”

Bailey and friend Martha Moore began a conversation about creating a HAARC petition to remove the thin blue line flag when their requests were again ignored. They posted the petition on Jan. 18.

“We, citizens of Madison County, request that the Board of Supervisors immediately instruct the Madison County Sheriff to remove this symbol of division from the flagpole outside the Madison County Jail and Sheriff’s Office, and that it be removed from any other building or meeting in the county. It has no place in or outside of any public building in Madison County,” the petition reads. 

The goal of the online petition was originally set at 500 supporters but was raised to 2,000 on Feb. 9 after surpassing 1,000 signatures. Madison County’s Board of Supervisors also received 17 letters from the public to take the flag down, according to Bailey. 

“The petition is stimulating a lot of conversation, and I think that’s a good thing. I think the things that divide us we have to talk about,” Bailey said.

Colgate senior Genevieve McCarthy shared an opinion similar to Bailey’s. 

“Even though it is law enforcement, it is also to an extent criminal justice, and it’s upsetting to know that black Americans will have to go into the Sheriff’s Office and cannot expect to be treated equally. It is supposed to be where crimes get decided and it’s upsetting to see the injustice. It doesn’t feel like [the Sheriff’s Office is] meant for our entire community,” McCarthy said. 

Colgate College Republicans President and junior Emma Darcy disagreed with the petition, saying she stands with the original meaning of the flag and sees no change in what it symbolizes. 

“I don’t think [the petition] is accurate and I don’t think people understand what the flag is meant to represent. I understand there are high tensions after the Capitol was breached, but it is not fair to make generalizations about any group based on the actions of a few,” Darcy said. “It is a police department so it makes perfect sense that they should fly a flag that represents and honors the good police officers that risk their lives on a daily basis to keep our community safe.”

On Feb. 9, the Madison County Board of supervisors met to consider a resolution to permit the Madison County buildings in Wampsville, N.Y. to continue to fly the thin blue line flag, according to an update on the petition posted Feb. 8. The Board decided to table the resolution, according to Bailey, who was in attendance. 

“Some of the supervisors expressed their dismay over how the response to HAARC was handled,” Bailey wrote in an email summarizing the events of the meeting. “I wish it had not been tabled as now there is a good chance that the supporters of the flag are now motivated to support the sheriff and chairman in keeping the flag up.”