On July 4, Independence Day, Bryton Mellott was arrested for posting photos on Facebook of his burning of a US flag. The story was picked up by Forbes, NPR, ABC news, CNN, and other national outlets, and went viral on social media.
The irony of those protesting what the Supreme Court decided in 1989 is free speech was not lost on many nationwide. In the media storm over the flag burning pic — including numerous threats of physical violence — Mellott’s text received scant attention:
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.
I do not have pride in my country. I am overwhelmingly ashamed, and I will demonstrate my feelings accordingly. #ArrestMe.
State’s Attorney Julia Rietz declined to charge Mellett, and he was soon released. Urbana police said they “respect” Rietz’s decision, but have not admitted to wrongfully arresting Mellott for flag desecration and disorderly conduct, as well as being a victim of disorderly conduct. Police Chief Patrick Connolly needs to explain who and exactly why the decision was made to arrest Mellott.
Threats of physical violence, including death threats, continued to be posted on social media. Mellott himself posted, “So it’d be super-duper if the death threats could stop,” and later, “Let’s see… survived for… almost three days.” We call on the police to identify and the state’s attorney to prosecute those making death and other physical threats in violation of the law.
The Public i stands in solidarity with Mellott’s right of free speech to write and do what he did. It is utterly perverse for police to “protect” free speech by arresting, handcuffing, and imprisoning those who exercise it.