Man's Flag Burning Fires Up Internet, Gets Him Arrested

But it wasn't Bryton Mellott's free-speech exercise alone that brought the heat
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2016 12:58 PM CDT
Man's Flag Burning Fires Up Internet, Gets Him Arrested
One of the offending photos.   (Facebook)

In almost 30 years, the Urbana Police Department hasn't had to enforce a flag desecration statute on the books, but that changed Monday with the arrest of a 22-year-old Illinois man, Forbes reports. Bryton Mellott posted pictures on Facebook Sunday showing him burning the American flag (only one image appears to still be posted), along with a now-deleted post that proclaimed "I am not proud to be an American" and criticized 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." He ended his note with #ArrestMe. And that's exactly what police did after receiving calls from people concerned about their own safety: Mellott also started receiving menacing online messages, as well as threats against Walmart, where he works, the News-Gazette reports.

"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," an Urbana PD statement said. Cops say they asked Mellott to take down the Facebook posts, explaining they understood his right to free speech but that his actions were "causing others to be put at risk of harm," an Urbana police sergeant tells Forbes, but Mellott refused. Mellott was not only charged with flag desecration (a Class 4 felony), but also for disorderly conduct—and he was also listed as a victim of disorderly conduct due to the threats against him. What makes Mellott's case extra-confusing: Mellott's lawyer and others say flag desecration laws have been found unconstitutional, based on a 1990 Supreme Court case that said burning the flag was protected speech, Time reported last year. (A flag at an Atlanta Braves game was set on fire—but not as a form of protest.)

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