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What does the American flag with the thin blue line mean to you? 

For police officers, their families and their supporters, it’s a solemn symbol of solidarity to honor officers who died in the line of duty. 

To others, particularly Black Lives Matter activists and those against President Donald Trump, it’s associated with hatred because it’s been seen draped across trucks in Trump caravans and waved in white supremacy rallies across the country. 

The division came to a head this month in Pelham Manor, a Westchester village of less than 6,000 people. 

Pelham Manor incident 

Pelham Schools Superintendent Cheryl Champ banned a sweatshirt honoring the late New York Transit Police Detective George Caccavale, who lived in Pelham at the time of his on-duty death in 1976. 

The sweatshirt had the late officer’s name on one sleeve and the thin blue line flag emblazoned on the other. It was designed and sold by Caccavale’s family to raise money for police spouses and families of slain officers. Four of his grandchildren are currently students in the district.

But Champ banned the sweatshirt with the thin blue line flag and other police clothing, like masks, with the flag because the symbolism “was threatening in nature.” Champ later clarified that it wasn’t politically motivated at all; it was to protect students. 

She originally allowed “vote” shirts with the names of Black individuals who were killed by police, according to a Nov. 13 letter by Pelham Manor Police Chief Jeffrey Carpenter, but the superintendent has since disallowed those shirts to be fair in implementing the policy. 

For more than a week, Champ was flooded with letters and emails like Carpenter’s expressing their outrage and inconsistencies in her policy. 

Carpenter said in his letter that knee-jerk reactions in “tumultuous and unprecedented times” have a trickle down effect that can cause more division in the community.

And as a police officer, he said he was “saddened” to hear that some feel threatened or unsafe around police and the word “increasingly” stuck with him. 

“I was upset because I was never made aware of this allegedly increasing perception. If it was increasing, it was therefore measured, and I was never informed of this growing sentiment,” said Carpenter, who wished this was brought to his attention sooner.

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He said he wants to continue to foster a respectful and trusting nature between his department and the school district and community. In his letter, he outlined some of the police and school district initiatives, including re-instituting the D.A.R.E. program, participating in lockdown drills, and providing police presence at school functions, among others. 

“In fact, during this calendar year, we have already walked through those schools approximately 170 times to ensure that everyone was safe,” he said. “I was