Illinois Police Arrest Man for Felony Flag Burning on Fourth of July

Carlos Miller

Illinois Police Arrest Man for Felony Flag Burning on Fourth of July Despite it Being Protected Speech (Updated)

An Illinois man who celebrated the Fourth of July weekend by burning an American flag in protest against the United States was arrested Monday as a reminder that freedom in this country is mostly a facade.

After all, the United States Supreme Court ruled decades ago that flag burning as a form of protest is protected by the First Amendment, that same Constitutional act that also guarantees us free speech, including the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

You know, those things Americans like to celebrate on the Fourth of July while waving their Chinese-made American flags and setting off their Chinese-made fireworks.

But as much as Americans like to celebrate freedom, many are oblivious to what it actually entails because when Bryton Mellott posted photos of himself on Facebook, showing him burning the American flag while voicing his displeasure with the United States, many Americans made death threats against him and others simply called the cops on him.

And Urbana police ended up arresting him on flag desecration, a felony statute that somehow is a law in that state despite a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Texas vs. Johnson, that made it clear flag desecration is protected speech.

Urbana police said they arrested him for his own safety to protect him from those making threats against him, instead of arresting the ones making the threats, which happens to be an actual crime.

After arresting Mellott on charges of flag desecration and disorderly conduct, Urbana police consulted with the state attorney’s office who advised police to release him, even though he is still facing a court date.

So what is that Mellott said along with his flag burning that enraged citizens and police?

“I am not proud to be an American. In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis.
I would like to one day feel a sense of pride toward my nationality again. But too little progress has been made. Too many people still suffer at the hands of politicians influenced by special interests. Too many people are still being killed and brutalized by a police force plagued with authority complexes and racism.
Too many people are allowed to be slaughtered for the sake of gun manufacturer profits. Too many Americans hold hate in their hearts in the name of their religion, and for fear of others. And that’s only to speak of domestic issues.”

No threats there, so that is protected speech, even though it resulted in him getting arrested.

But many others did make threats to him, which is not protected speech, not that it resulted in anybody getting arrested. That thread ended up deleted.

According to Forbes:

Mellott has been charged with Section 49-1, flag desecration, a class four felony in Illinois, Charles said. He’s also been charged with disorderly conduct, both as an offender and a victim. The reason for both classifications is because police fielded calls from people making threatening calls against Mellott while he himself committed an act that was “causing others to be put at risk of harm,” Charles added.
When Mellott was apprehended this morning, police officers asked him to take down the photos from his Facebook page. Mellott declined. At about 2:30 p.m. today, Mellott’s Facebook page was taken down for reasons unknown at the moment. Charles was also not sure why the Facebook page was removed. Mellott is still in police custody and does not have access to a cell phone.
“I just think it’s an unfortunate situation when freedom of speech issues come into conflict with safety issues,” Charles added. “Concerns have to be balanced. This wasn’t an issue with anyone at the police department being personally offended by his speech. But the reaction that it was gathering, and the concern for the safety of all involved forced us into a reaction.”
Mellott is to be arraigned Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

Read the press release from the Urbana Police Department here.

UPDATE: Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said Tuesday that felony flag desecration charges will not be filed against Mellott because the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that it is Constitutionally protected activity.

Now the question remains, why did Illinois legislators pass a flag desecration law in 2013 considering anybody with any legal sense could have seen it was an unconstitutional law?

Rietz’s office said it will urge legislators to review the state’s flag desecration law “given the Constitutional issues it presents.”

Given Illinois’ history with its eavesdropping law where police were encouraged to arrest citizens recording them in public – which was ruled unconstitutional by an appellate court after a lengthy battle by the state – it is obvious the Constitution takes a back seat to police power in the Land of Lincoln.


Citizen Journalism