Today’s batch of burning questions, my smart-aleck answers and the real deal:
Question: I recently toured the new $11.7 million Hendersonville Police Department, paid for by American taxpayer money. As such, I was confused to see three flags hanging in their weight room, none of which were the American flag. One flag was yellow, featuring a snake with the grammatically incorrect phrase, “no step on snek.” One features Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die,” political cartoon from the 1700’s, and the last resembles an American flag but it is stripped of its colors, with only one line filled in blue. Who do these flags represent? Are they inclusive to all Americans? If not, does the Hendersonville Police Department only serve people under the umbrella of those flags? We see an American flag flying on the outside of the building, but what’s the story on the inside?
My answer: Hate to nitpick here, but is “snake” really that hard to spell? Or that long of a word to fit on a flag?
Real answer: Hendersonville Police Chief Blair Myhand responded via email.
“The men and women of the Hendersonville Police Department are proud to serve all citizens and visitors of our community,” Myhand said. “This is evident by the establishment of the Police Advisory Committee, National Night Out Event, and our involvement in the community. In addition, our department has embraced the concepts of 21st century policing by updating policies, procedures, and training.”
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Myhand said the department is proud of the new facility, “which was generously provided by the citizens of Hendersonville.”
“Hanging throughout the inside of the Police Department are multiple American and North Carolina flags, in addition to historical photos, motivational pictures, and tributes to fallen officers and injured officers in the line of duty,” Myhand said. “These items serve as public reminders of the service each officer provides to our community every day.”
He also noted the law enforcement is a difficult and stressful, jobs, and officers “face life and death situations on a regular basis.”
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“These situations affect the mental and physical health of our officers,” Myhand said. “Therefore, the city made it a priority to provide space within the building where the officers can exercise to decompress and disconnect from the stresses of the job.”
“The flags described in the question were not funded by taxpayers but supplied by employees to decorate their area of the building,” Myhand continued. “To the employees, the flags symbolize support for law enforcement and reinforce the oaths they took to protect and serve all people.”
Myhand also said the HPD “has a culture of open communication and mutual respect.”
“If any employee were to take offense with any of the decorations in the gym or the station, the item would be removed,” Myhand said.
The “no step on snek” flag is a takeoff on the Gadsden flag of the American Revolutionary War. That flag depicts a coiled snake on a yellow background, with the words, “Don’t tread on me.”
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Slangland.net offers this explanation for the “snek” spelling: “It is still a popular symbol in American culture and is often referenced to this day, allowing it to be adopted by the meme community as well in 2015, when a comic spelling of the word snake as ‘snek’ started to spread across the internet. Soon after this, variations of the Gadsden flag began surfacing on various sites, such as Reddit, 4chan and Tumblr, with the phrase “No step on snek.”
Urban Dictionary offers a similar explanation. One of the comments there is particularly colorful: “The definition used by the most patriotic humans on God’s green Earth. NSOS can refer to any human both foreign and domestic that has a problem with having their God given rights stripped from them. However, is Most recognized in the USA NSOS is derived from the ‘Don’t tread on me’ Gadsden flag: a yellow colored flag with a snake in the center — clearly meaning there are consequences when attempting to overtake or overthrow another human being, entity, company , or alike.”
Clearly, some folks view the, “No step on snek” as being pretty right-wing. Others suggest it was actually liberals poking fun at conservatives who had adopted the, “Don’t tread on me” flag.
The “Join or die” flag is a reference to founding father Ben Franklin and a cartoon chiding the colonies for not being unified against the British. It is often associated with the conservative movement.
The American flag with the blue line in the middle is a “Blue Lives Matter” flag, a reference to police being the “thin blue line” between civility and lawlessness. In January 2021, I wrote an Answer Man about the Weaverville Police Department having “Blue Lives Matter” license plates on their vehicles.
Weaverville Police Chief Ron Davis responded back then that the department is “non-political.” He noted the origin of the ‘thin blue line’ goes back to the 1800s.
“The meaning of the flag and its thin blue line version grew through time to represent officers (often dressed in blue) and their courage and sacrifice in protecting the people,” Davis said then.
Davis noted that the symbol also has been used in the police community as a sign of respect and sympathy for the families of officers killed in the line of duty. The “thin blue line,” he said in 2021, should not be used as a symbol of controversy.
But, I also noted the Thin Blue Line Flag has also become controversial over the past half-decade or so, citing a June 2020 piece from the Marshall Project titled, “The Short, Fraught History of the ‘Thin Blue Line’ American Flag. “
“Those who fly the flag have said it stands for solidarity and professional pride within a dangerous, difficult profession and a solemn tribute to fallen police officers,” the article states. “But it has also been flown by white supremacists, appearing next to Confederate flags at the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. County officials in Oregon recently paid $100,000 to a black employee of a law enforcement agency there, after she said she was harassed by coworkers for complaining about her colleagues displaying the flag at work.”
Clearly, this all gets very complicated, very quickly…
This is the opinion of John Boyle. To submit a question, contact him at 232-5847 or email@example.com