Urbana, IL — On the 4th of July, countless Facebook users donned their digital pitchforks and torches and praised the arrest and felony charge against 22-year-old Bryton Mellott. His crime? Posting a picture of himself with a burning american flag.
A short time after he posted the photo on Facebook, Mellott was swarmed with online attacks and threats from countless individuals who have no concept of freedom of speech. Shortly after the threats to Mellott began pouring in, the Urbana police department’s phone began ringing of the hook with calls for his arrest — so police responded.
Sgt. Andrew Charles, with the Urbana police told the News Gazzette they arrested Mellott because of all the threats against him and his place of employment, Wal-Mart.
“The volume of responses and specificity of threat against his place of employment (a location where an act of violence would likely cause harm to others), prompted police involvement in this case,” said Charles.
Police are claiming they were forced to arrest Mellott and charge him with a felony — to protect him.
“The free speech that he was exhibiting, while it was distasteful to some, free speech is free speech,” Charles said. “It’s when you say things that are inciteful and make it clear that you are associated with someone that doesn’t share your ideas; it got raised to a level where a reasonable person there would fear for their safety. It’s similar to yelling fire in a movie theater.”
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.
Mellott’s arraignment is set for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.
Included with his image of a burning American flag was the following post:
“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,” Mellott wrote.
Of course, Mellott’s views on guns are misguided, but he harmed no one — yet he was deprived of his freedom.
The sheer number of calls for his death and his deprivation of rights on Facebook, however, are shocking.
Clearly ignoring the ostensible freedom the flag supposedly represents, fascists would rather see people punished for their speech — because it offends them.
Shortly after he posted the photo, the Facebook page Bryton Mellott dead or alive was setup. On it, people call for Mellott to be beaten, anally raped, shot, burned alive, and imprisoned — for a piece of cloth.
In the famous Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson in 1989, a five-justice majority ruled that desecrating the American flag was protected speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
Despite this ruling, Americans from sea to shining sea continue to call for the arrest, or even death, of those who’d dare express their opinion through the use of the Old Glory.
The very essence of freedom is tolerating peaceful forms of expression, no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel. Sadly missing the point, however, are folks who fail to understand that burning or desecrating a flag without fear of punishment from one’s government, is what liberty is all about.
When a society becomes more concerned with a piece of cloth than the freedom it is meant to represent, it’s time to wake up.
As a former member of the USMC, I am unoffended when I see flag set ablaze or stepped on — because I see it as an act of expression by a group who feels oppressed. Those who feel oppressed must never be silenced.
Throughout history, the ‘patriotic’ majority has been responsible for most of the atrocities committed against our fellow humans. Only because of a handful of irate freedom loving individuals, unafraid to challenge the status quo, do we have any semblance of liberty in America today.
A true patriot is never a member of the majority who calls for their opposition to be silenced with state force because their views are ‘offensive.’ No, a true patriot is the one who refuses to be intimidated in the face of this violently obstinate collective.
This article first appeared on the Free Thought Project.
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