My Hometown

Controversy Over A Blue Lives Matter Flag Threatens to Tear Chardon Ohio Apart

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When a flag is more than a symbol. Chardon’s Hilltoppers take the field Aug. 28 (News-Herald photo)

My hometown of Chardon, Ohio (I call it my second hometown since I spent the first five years of my life in Mayfield Hts., Ohio and still feel an affinity for it), is going through a firestorm revolving around Black Lives Matter/Blue Lives Matter. I’ll get to that in a second. Let me talk about where I grew up first.

When my family moved to Chardon in 1968, I hated it. Although I made my peace with living there, I always regretted we left Mayfield Heights. Back there, I had a neighborhood to grow up in — sidewalks, streetlights, an ice cream man, local stores and schools. In Chardon, I had none of those things. My mom put me in a public school for three months then a spot opened at a local Catholic elementary school and I went there for 8 ½ years of incarceration.

My parents weren’t wealthy enough for the school they sacrificed to send me to, and I felt it every day I attended. But to the kids in my neighborhood, I was the ‘city slicker.’ Growing up, it took me awhile to figure out what seemed weird about the town and then it eventually hit me — Chardon was one of those places where you would never be fully accepted until you were third generation. Or had money.

Also, the town and surrounding county are relentlessly conservative and almost completely white. The county GOP had its headquarters on Main Street when we moved there and it’s still a flaming red county. In 1969, Geauga County, of which Chardon is the county seat, was ranked the 31st wealthiest county per capita in the United States. The town itself was a mix of generations of natives and arrivistes.

My dad moved to Chardon to get ahead of the migration of ‘undesirables’ (he would have used more racist language) into Cleveland’s eastern suburbs, which was ridiculous, since Mayfield Heights would remain lily white well after my father died in 1983. Dad wanted was to move to a place where he would never have to worry about moving again. In that, he succeeded.

My dad’s other motivation was he wanted a backyard bigger than suburbia. I called it “The Oliver Wendell Douglas Effect” throughout my older childhood, after Eddy Albert’s character in “Green Acres.” You know, “land, spreadin’ out so far and wide, keep suburbia just give me that countryside.”

Ugh. Well you know where I’d rather have been.

Anyway, even though I moved away, I returned to Chardon in 2007 to take care of my dying mother and try to make a go of a local bookstore. I still found the atmosphere of the town insular, which is sad in a way, because the town itself, architecturally, is so charming. Many of the people, alas, share the same small-town biases as most of middle America.

I made that observation in a Facebook post a month or so ago and lost my last friends from Chardon who unfriended me. What I said wasn’t aimed at them; they are not the kind of people I was talking about. But the insularity of the town requires everyone to circle the wagons. I regret they were offended, but that’s life.

One more thing, you might remember about the town — this also happened:

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Thomas “T. J.” Lane III, 17, killed three Chardon High School students and wounded three others on February 27, 2012

Now to the current situation.

Last weekend the Chardon High School football team ran on to the field with the Thin Blue Line/Blue Lives Matter flag (top photo). The superintendent, Dr. Michael P. Hanlon, Jr., whose letter to the community is in this Facebook post, received complaints that the presence of the flag was polarizing. He decided it would not be flown again, as the district has a policy that they will avoid anything that might cause people to think they’re taking a political stand.

The superintendent has been consistent. A teacher engaged in virtual learning, had to take down her Black Lives Matter backdrop for the same reason.

But the story went national and was covered by Fox News, which meant yahoos from all over the nation are joining the home-grown yahoos littering the district’s social media accounts with hateful messages, A LOT OF POSTS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and general idiocy.

The Board of Education has announced its support of the Superintendent. But if I were them, I would take a week’s vacation out of state, because they are going to be targeted. Within minutes of the Board’s Facebook post, the comments were being bombarded with Thin Blue Line flags and the vitriol we’ve come to expect from the local self-appointed guardians of America.

One of the county commissioners, Ralph Spidalieri, has called for the superintendent’s resignation“Your letter sickens me and so many others that have reached out to me and expressed the same disgust with your inability to stand up and recognize their patriotism,” he said, obviously missing the point by a mile.

Typical of too many of the Facebook comments was this one:

Mary Ann Friihauf:
In Mrs. Diehm’s classroom in Chardon School, this is displayed.
‘In this classroom we believe black lives matter,
Love is love, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, water is life, Science is real and compassion is everything. ‘
Now if this isn’t political, I don’t know what is. I demand it be taken down Immediately.

She wasn’t joking. It seems many of these people are incapable of feeling empathy towards anyone outside their tribe. This lack of humanity and logical reasoning skills seems endemic to the “All Lives Matter” crowd. I can’t imagine living in such a cold, heartless place in my mind.

Of course, there will be a protest this weekend in support of “the Chardon Football players that were banned from supporting law enforcement before football games.” The county GOP has jumped on the bandwagon too.

If I were Hanlon, I would not have died on this hill, precisely because of what has happened since the weekend. I know the town. The superintendent was my oldest child’s principal at Rice Elementary in the Mentor (Ohio) system. I can’t believe he didn’t realize the vast cultural differences between the two districts. This will most likely end his career at Chardon, and may hurt his career prospects in the future.

The social media vitriol, while expected, is still vile and uncalled for. The superintendent does not hate the police. People have tried to explain this online. But those who would sow discord, who hide their racism and hate behind a Blue Lives Matter flag, of course, were going to pounce on it.

There were people in the comments who voiced their concerns with the Blue Lives Matter flag and the larger issue of how people of color are treated by the town (which was almost 98% white in the 2000 census) and its’ schools. This woman did, in a public post, and, of course, after being harassed (‘make her famous,’ = dox her), she took it down.

The police chief, whose dad was also the police chief and lived two doors down from us, wrote a decent, non-political letter of thanks to the community, which I think was designed to help defuse the conflict. It doesn’t seem to be working.

I have been against the Blue Lives Matter movement for two basic reasons — one, it’s obviously being used as a cover for racism by many and two, even among those whose primary motive is supporting the police, the message seems to have taken on ominous authoritarian (if not actually fascist) overtones: Blue Lives Matter . . . OR ELSE!

It seems as though these demands for police worship are similar to smearing anyone who doesn’t show the appropriate fealty toward authority, the flag, mom, apple pie, Trump, Jesus, or whatever other symbols and organizations the right is holding above everyone’s heads for political gain.

To be fair, it can work both ways. When I see the same kind of loyalty demands of people from the Black Lives Matter movement, I also recoil. I hate loyalty tests of all kinds because they are the enemy of freedom of conscience.

But the unjustified killing of black people by the police created BLM, in my opinion, and the resulting violence on the streets and in our politics are threatening to tear the country apart. What’s happening in Chardon is the natural product of an increasingly dangerous cultural civil war.

Against such violent emotions, many people not in agreement keep their heads down; especially in small towns.

This is, unfortunately, the lesson Superintendent Hanlon is going to learn the hard way. In my interactions with him as my son’s principal, I felt he was a solid educator and a good citizen. It is sad to see what is happening to him and I am appalled that people nowadays feel they can say vile things about a man they do not know and about a policy they don’t understand.

I am glad to no longer have any ties to Chardon. There’s enough thick-headed reactionaries where I live now without having to accept as my hometown a place which has been stuck in the 1950s since I lived there.

The thing is, there are Chardons all over the country where the same dramas will play out. With what promises to be the most perilous election in American history since 1860 coming up, I fear these skirmishes are just the beginning of something far worse coming.