Half-staff flags honor officers who have made ultimate sacrifice

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

At times it seems Old Glory is permanently at half-staff.

The older — make that “more experienced” among us remember when seeing the flag anywhere other than the top of the pole was unusual. When it was, we usually didn’t have to ask — President Kennedy had been assassinated, or a space shuttle had exploded.

Now, it’s not unusual to see the flag at half-staff, but it’s usually accompanied by a question.

“Why are the flags at half-mast?” (The Associated Press prefers “half-staff” but some military veterans will tell you “mast” is preferred).

The answer is usually something appropriate, such as a school shooting or the death of a nationally-known figure.

But we’re afraid lowering the national flag loses its impact when it seems to happen every other day.

We won’t argue with the flag’s position today, lowered on state buildings by order of Gov. Pete Ricketts in response to a White House directive.

And, in this case, the questions it raises are as important as the act itself.

The American flag is at half-staff today because it’s Peace Officers Memorial Day. Thanks for asking.

From the time the first on-duty death of an American law enforcement officer was recorded in 1721, through the end of 2017, 21,541 officers made the ultimate sacrifice to keep their communities safe.

Police shootings receive the majority of media attention, and they do deserve scrutiny, especially when they prove to be unjustified.

Officers are human, and they make mistakes or let their emotions overwhelm better judgment like any of us can.

Add to that, hours of boredom broken by occasional moments of crisis requiring split-second, life-or-death decisions, and mistakes are unavoidable.

But for each instance where an officer uses excessive force, there are hundreds where he or she has gone above and beyond, endangering the officer’s own life, to keep from using deadly force to stop a crime or subdue a suspect.

Why is the flag at half-staff?

It’s to honor those ordinary human beings who have made the ultimate sacrifice to maintain that “thin blue line” that separates order from chaos.

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