Police Claim They Arrested Man Who Burnt American Flag Because Of Threats He Received

from the huh? dept

Hey, guys, how was your 4th of July? Good? Lots of hot dogs and brats? Nobody firecrackered their nuts off or anything? Maybe just drank a little too much? Whatever your 4th of July experience, it sure wasn’t as bad as this guy’s.

Meet Bryton Mellott. Bryton’s just a guy from Urbana, IL. A guy with a Facebook page that he uses to share stuff with friends, post hilarious memes, and post a picture of himself burning the American flag on the 4th of July, the anniversary of when President Washington personally haymaker-punched the King of England right in the face (I think), thereby setting all some Americans free of our British overseers.

As you can imagine, lots of people didn’t like Bryton’s picture. Some called the police about it for reasons we will get into in a moment. Others threatened him with violence and death. Still others threatened him with violence and death at his place of work. A few meager folks stuck up for him. You know, Facebook.

And at the end of the day, Bryton was arrested by Urbana police. Per the department’s own press release.

On the morning of 7/4/16, the Urbana police department began receiving calls concerning a Facebook post that portrayed Bryton Mellott, a citizen of Urbana, burning an American flag. The images and narrative in the post caused some to call and request police action against Mellott and others to call and express concern for the safety of Mellott and those around him. Officers viewed the post and saw that there were a rapidly growing number of social media responses. Many threatened violence against Mellott and his place of employment, which fielded a large volume of calls regarding the post.

Given 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. After investigating the incident and speaking to both Mellott and his employer [Walmart -EV], Mellott was placed under arrest for flag desecration. The police report lists Mellott as an offender of both flag desecration and disorderly conduct as well as a victim of disorderly conduct. After consulting with a member of the States Attorney’s Office, Mellott was released from custody and given a notice to appear in court. Mellott’s release was due to questions about the constitutionality of the 2013 Illinois flag desecration law.

The Urbana Police department recognizes that this is a case where the right of free speech comes into conflict with the safety of uninvolved citizens. The actions taken in this case have been to try to assure the safety of the public and Mr. Mellott. The Urbana Police urge the public to express themselves in a peaceful way and to not retaliate against unpopular speech.

There is just so much wrong in that press release that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the flag desecration bit first. The end of the PR piece says that Bryton was released because there are questions about the constitutionality of Illinois’ flag desecration law, which makes it illegal to burn the American flag. Yet there are zero questions about it, actually. The Supreme Court was quite clear in rulings in the 80s and 90s that laws like the one in Illinois, which was enacted in 2013, are flat out unconstitutional. The burning of the flag can make you mad and sick, but it’s speech, and it’s worth protecting. That additional bit about consulting with the States Attorney’s office wasn’t so much a consultation as it was that office telling police to let him go and then refusing to charge him because they couldn’t.

The State’s Attorney’s Office is declining to file charges against (Bryton) Mellott as the act of burning a flag is protected free speech according to the US Supreme Court decision, Texas v. Johnson, 491 US 397 (1989).

Now, to the disorderly conduct portion of this. That charge as well is completely nonsensical. If the burning of the flag is free and valid speech, the uproar that occurred on social media, including the threats of violence, can in no way be made the fault of the free and legal speech. Bryton didn’t make any threats. He didn’t act disorderly in any way. He was purely a victim here.

And the court has made clear since 1949 that the government can’t punish someone for “disorderly conduct” simply because his speech offends people and leads some of them to threaten violent retaliation. The police must protect the speaker (even though such protection understandably involves cost and risk for the police), rather than criminally punish him for his speech, except perhaps in some extremely rare cases that involve brewing riots on the street — a narrow category into which this speech doesn’t fall.

Which brings us to the police’s use of those threats as part of its excuse for involvement and the eventual arrest of Bryton to begin with. Keep in mind, whatever you think of it, that what Bryton did was legal. For others to threaten him and his place of work with violence, and to then use those threats to arrest Bryton is one of the most blatant examples of victim-blaming I can think of. The summary here should make this clear: a man, on the 4th of July, engaged in free speech, had threats made against him, and then those threats were the excuse used to arrest that man. Nowhere does the department’s comments state that any other arrests have been made, such as the arrests of those who actually committed a real crime by making violent threats.

Being an advocate for free speech means protecting speech you don’t like. I can’t think of a more pure example of the opposite of that than this story.

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Comments on “Police Claim They Arrested Man Who Burnt American Flag Because Of Threats He Received”

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124 Comments
Sargas says:

Re: Re:

If the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, then those who conspire to violate it should be punished accordingly. If they have taken a oath to support it, then then an appropriate charge would be treason.

While that’s not likely to happen today, it very well may in the future. Those who think they are getting away with it today should still be very afraid of the future. People remember.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

After the first visit from the cops telling him to stop posting that sort of thing, he should have gotten in his car and driven outside the city limits and posted to his heart’s content.

Yeah, if he doesn’t like the way they do things in Urbana he should just go away. America, love it or leave it. Complainers shot on sight.

/s

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The only plausible explanation as to why it went down this way, is that law enforcement is hard. Really hard. Especially when it involves the Internets.

It must’ve took Urbana police too long to load Facebook, let alone all of the comments (given they’re still using a dial-up connection to their AOL service) so they decided it’d be easier to come up with a unique way to charge the victim instead.

It’s all about efficiency. And not doing work.

Blingle Flingle says:

Georgie Porgie

“…when President Washington personally haymaker-punched the King of England right in the face (I think)…”

Hahahaha… Wasn’t this George III? I don’t think he ever left his bathroom let along journeying to another continent. Mad as the proverbial hatter, spanking one off whilst wearing his mother’s drapes. Rumour has it he didn’t give a tinker’s cuss about “The New World”, despite the English government advising him otherwise.

I would have spent serious money to see that punch though…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The Right to Free Speech - America, you don't know the half of it

There is not a single protected right in America that is not under constant assault by the Government.

However, like this article people do not know how to read.
They ascribe rights NOT mentioned in the Constitution and attempt to say that rights that ARE mentioned are not actually there.

This article is a sign of that perversion!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Right to Free Speech - America, you don't know the half of it

The Constitution does not really grant rights. It restricts government behavior. It’s a subtle, but important difference. One of the important aspects of the difference is that a right does not have to be specifically mentioned in the Constitution in order to exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The Right to Free Speech - America, you don't know the half of it

I agree! The Constitutions grants/denies Powers to the Government, it is not a protector of rights. The People are the protector of rights and a find job we have done of it too! People are being murdered by the state and illegally searched by the TSA multiple times a second but hot damn we can burn that flag!

Twisting the burning of the flag into a “Speech” only issue is just as dissonant as saying that if you are not in a militia you cannot have any guns.

So there are two important things here.
1. It is not important what the guy is burning.
2. It is a problem that what he is burning dictates whether it is a speech issue or not. To take it that far means that people should be able to have sex in front of child out of the blue because they politically believe that it should not be kept a secret!

Or rather at long as people are doing it in the context of speech they can do anything they like, be any kind of a nuisance they like so long as another person is not physically affected by it.

We both know that is a load of hogwash!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The Right to Free Speech - America, you don't know the half of it

“The Constitution does not really grant rights….”

I think JFK said it best during his inaugural speech;

“And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The Right to Free Speech - America, you don't know the half of it

There are a lot of things not mentioned in the Constitution directly, but that are elaborated on and interpreted by courts in the 200+ years of case law that we have regarding the Constitution. So no, not everything attributed to the Constitution was in there when it was first written, but there’s a lot that it has been interpreted to include, as well as all the amendments that have been added since.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The Right to Free Speech - America, you don't know the half of it

So you are okay with the Supreme Courts complete gutting of the 4th Amendment? That and many other courts doing the same? How about all of the innocent people in jail? You agree this is a good thing? You also agree that the Courts have completely operated with 100% perfection as well? You have a lot of faith in easy to corrupt humans. Even the founders had no such foolishness in their mutterings.

If fact they made it clear that the Government WILL, reiterating again, WILL become corrupt and that we would need to take action against it eventually.

Yes we know that the court is there to help interpret the law, but the court has also suppressed the Jury which are also present to help interpret the law and resist systematic injustice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The Right to Free Speech - America, you don't know the half of it

You make a lot of assumptions and assertions without any evidence to support them.

I don’t approve of many of the SCOTUS decisions that have weakened the 4th amendment. I don’t approve of how Scalia interpreted the 2nd amendment. I don’t approve of the Citizens United ruling. There’s a lot I disagree with. What does that have to do with this case though? I didn’t see anywhere that anyone said SCOTUS is infallible or always makes the right decision. That’s not what anyone is debating, aside from you apparently arguing that point against strawmen.

In this particular case, I do agree with the SCOTUS decision. Burning the flag should be protected speech. It’s a political statement of disapproval of whatever the actor believes it represents. That is perhaps the most important right we have as American citizens – we’re allowed to openly dissent. You strangely appear to dissent but don’t recognize your hypocrisy in not wanting others to be able to dissent by a different method. You rant about the government becoming corrupt but someone else might make the same statement through the political act of burning the flag.

Your reference to juries is a non sequitur. It has nothing to do with the interpretation of legislation and appeals cases by the judiciary. Would you want a jury of untrained, possibly even uneducated regular citizens to replace SCOTUS? That would lead to widespread injustice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The Right to Free Speech - America, you don't know the half of it

“There is not a single protected right in America that is not under constant assault by the Government.”

Apparently the government is just a proxy for the real anti american types who continually try to change the laws to suit their agenda thus giving them authority over everyone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well....

I am 100% constitutional and you fucks are not!

Burning a flag… fuck that, burning anything is NOT A FREEDOM OF SPEECH ISSUE! Yes I know what SCOTUS said, SCOTUS also said that no one has any 4th amendment rights at any time or any where when the police “decide” they can’t have them too and that is bullshit as well!

Remember, when you take action that can harm others or is not peaceable then you are crossing the line and have no rights. The only time we need to take physical action is when the talking is not working.

So one more time you fucking losers… burning shit is not Freedom of Speech!

And to be clear, he should not be arrested for burning the flag, but he should have been fined $ for creating an unnecessary fire in unsafe conditions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well....

You are free™ to think that it’s not a right and others (like SCOTUS) are free to disagree with your assessment.

“Remember, when you take action that can harm others or is not peaceable then you are crossing the line and have no rights. “

This is entirely incorrect.

First of all, his actions didn’t harm others. It wasn’t violent. Who did he assault?

Secondly, you still have rights even when you do cross a line into harming others. Suspects of crime and even convicted criminals still have rights.

Your perception of what is “constitutional” seems severely flawed. Which law school did you go to again? I don’t want to suggest anyone enroll there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Well....

First of all, his actions didn’t harm others. It wasn’t violent. Who did he assault?

So it’s cool if I yell fire in a crowded theater so long as no one gets hurt? As long as I assume the risk its all good right?

It is also cool if I swing an unloaded firearm around at no one in particular? No one will get hurt.

Speech is not Action. It is also not violent to burn leaves after you are done raking, but if you are caught without a permit you can be fined or go to jail?

Let me be clear, lets just can the fact that this is a flag, lets say its a cross instead. Do you still support it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Well....

“So it’s cool if I yell fire in a crowded theater so long as no one gets hurt? As long as I assume the risk its all good right?”

If there isn’t a fire in the theater and someone does get hurt, you could be prosecuted and/or held liable in a civil suit. Is yelling fire when there is no fire political speech? That would be an interesting defense.

“It is also cool if I swing an unloaded firearm around at no one in particular? No one will get hurt.”

If no one knows that it’s not loaded and someone calls the cops on you, that would be a charge of menacing in some jurisdictions.

“Speech is not Action.”

Actions can be speech.

“It is also not violent to burn leaves after you are done raking, but if you are caught without a permit you can be fined or go to jail?”

That’s because there are laws against burns in some jurisdictions. Political speech may not be exempt from that if it poses a danger to a dry and dangerous environment. If a flag-burning got out of hand and started a forest or brush fire, the political speech part would be fine, but you would still likely be held liable for the destruction with criminal and possibly civil liability.

“Let me be clear, lets just can the fact that this is a flag, lets say its a cross instead. Do you still support it?”

Yes, absolutely. I think the KKK are a bunch of backwards racist bastards. But as long as they’re just burning crosses in their own backyards (and not harassing others with the threatening act), they’re free to do so. If you don’t defend their right to make horrific, but protected speech, your own right to free speech won’t be protected when someone thinks that your speech is horrific.

I’m sorry you don’t understand how freedom of speech works. It also seems like your understanding of what laws in states and counties and municipalities are like is also limited.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Well....

I know exactly how Freedom of Speech works and I do not disagree that actions “can be interpreted” as a speech issue. At the end of they day, words are words and actions are actions. Saying a physical action is protected just because it is under the guise of speech issue is the same as saying guns can be regulated flying in the face of the 2nd just because someone failed constitutional history.

I also have no problem with the guy burning the flag itself, not really the issue here. But he is doing something that would be considered illegal if it were not for the fact that he did with a flag.

I am trying to make it clear that there is a double standard going on. Not specifically you because you are consistent with your response with the cross, but many others that WOULD be okay with arresting others for hate speech.

The constitution needs to be followed 100%! Burning something, anything cannot be possibly any kind of a speech issue for anyone with wisdom. If he is in a place where lighting a fire is not allowed then they should be in trouble whether it be a flag or not. If they are in a place where it is legal to start a fire, they can burn whatever they want!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Well....

You’re an arrogant bigot, aren’t you? There are many people whose only means of communication is by action. This is their speech. Just because you are able to use vocalisation doesn’t mean everyone else can do so.

Speech is communication, communication is speech. In the broadest of senses. Communication is using a symbolic form of any kind to portray an idea to another.

Whether the specific communication is protected or not is a completely different and separate matter.

So burning a flag is a specific communication to people from one or more people. Removing or destroying a statue is another form of communication. As are protest marches and rallies. Even graffiti is a form of communication.

As regards hate speech, what is it exactly? As the old saying goes, one man’s poison is another man’s food.

If I make a comment about a specific group of people that they don’t like, they will call it hate speech. If my friend makes exactly the same comment (as a member of that group), his words are not considered hate speech. Figure that one out. If I repeat his words, then my speech is considered hate speech.

Determining what is or isn’t hate speech is a very nuanced activity and it is not a simple matter of “I know it when I see it.”

I have been called a bigot and racist for simply noting the reality of situations that are around me, all because I am Celtic descended white male who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Well....

Wanted to add but forgot in the previous post.

If no one knows that it’s not loaded and someone calls the cops on you, that would be a charge of menacing in some jurisdictions.

Burning a flag is menacing, doubly so if it is a foreign national doing it as well. Why are some people allowed to menace but not others? Got it, another freedom for me but not thee types?

If there isn’t a fire in the theater and someone does get hurt, you could be prosecuted and/or held liable in a civil suit. Is yelling fire when there is no fire political speech? That would be an interesting defense.

What if my purpose was to make a political statement regarding the fact that people refuse to be mindful of their surroundings and that they only act like foolishly trusting sheep regarding unfounded words and that this experiment was proof of it? No one would have gotten hurt if they kept their wits about them. Why should I be held responsible for the ignorance of another? It should be go without saying that if you stick a chain saw in your crotch or stand in front of a bulldozer you might get hurt! There really does not need to be a label. It is impossible to protect people from stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Well....

You’re using a common usage of the term menacing. I was using the legal sense in some jurisdictions.

For example, here is Oregon’s menacing statute:

“A person commits the crime of menacing if by word or conduct the person intentionally attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury.”

The act of pointing a gun at someone makes them legitimately feel threatened for their safety and life. Burning a flag, unless done on or near another person’s body, is not likely to harm them unless there’s another factor such as someone standing in a puddle of a flammable liquid.

Burning a cross on someone else’s lawn has a cultural and historical context. The message there is an implied threat. The threat, rather than the burning, is what would likely run afoul of a law. It’s a form of harassment and property damage.

“What if my purpose was to make a political statement regarding the fact that people refuse to be mindful of their surroundings and that they only act like foolishly trusting sheep regarding unfounded words and that this experiment was proof of it? No one would have gotten hurt if they kept their wits about them. Why should I be held responsible for the ignorance of another? It should be go without saying that if you stick a chain saw in your crotch or stand in front of a bulldozer you might get hurt! There really does not need to be a label. It is impossible to protect people from stupid.”

The liability in that situation would stem from negligence on your part due to the prior knowledge you would or should be expected to have that yelling out fire could likely incite panic in people. If there is no fire, you’re knowingly creating a situation by which others, regardless of whether their supposed stupidity is considered by you to be their own fault, may get injured.

Even protected speech can lead to liability if done so recklessly. Burning a flag is okay for political speech, but burning a flag at a gas station is definitely illegal.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well....

“Let me be clear, lets just can the fact that this is a flag, lets say its a cross instead. Do you still support it?”

Depends, what’s the context? If it’s on a black man’s lawn while dressed in a hood holding a noose, as per the KKK activities you’re presumably referring to, then no. But that’s due to the intention of threat inherent in that action, not because I think that particular symbol should never be lit on fire.

Otherwise, burn away.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Well....

So it’s cool if I yell fire in a crowded theater so long as no one gets hurt? As long as I assume the risk its all good right?

This event did not take place in a theater.
And no one yelled “fire.”

If you’re going to use this tired example, at least make sure it’s relevant.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Well....

This event did not take place in a theater.
And no one yelled “fire.”

If you’re going to use this tired example, at least make sure it’s relevant.

Not to mention that the whole “shouting fire in a crowded theater” cliche comes from the opinion of an over-praised judge writing in an opinion for a court that imprisoned American socialists for passing out fliers opposing the draft for WWI, which is about as anti-free speech as it gets. That ruling was OVERTURNED in the 60s, which means that everyone citing fires and crowded theaters is essentially citing a losing opinion in a losing verdict.

In other words, it’s an incredibly stupid thing to rely on to argue a point….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Well....

What do you recommend to do if physically assaulted? Is it ok to use gov. for these consequences?

Of course. That’s not speech.
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160610/10265934684/gawker-files-bankruptcy-begins-process-auctioning-itself-off.shtml#c1823

From someone who knows what the constitution says.

Punching someone in the mouth is not expressing yourself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Well....

Secondly, you still have rights even when you do cross a line into harming others. Suspects of crime and even convicted criminals still have rights.

Your perception of what is “constitutional” seems severely flawed. Which law school did you go to again? I don’t want to suggest anyone enroll there.

I thought they were called “rights” and not “privileges”. If people could lose their rights wouldn’t it undermine the whole concept of preventing abuse of power from the government as they would just loophole their way into anything they want.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Well....

“Burning a flag… fuck that, burning anything is NOT A FREEDOM OF SPEECH ISSUE!”

Not only is burning a flag a freedom of speech issue, burning the flag itself is one of the most protected forms of freedom of speech: overtly political speech.

You might have a point if what the guy did involved destroying or threatening someone else’s person or property. But he did nothing remotely like that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Well....

So you also support people burning a cross on their own front lawn across from black neighbors?

How about screeching obscenities at others?

What if he the fire got out of hand and burned something down?

And to keep it clear, its not that he burned a flag, it is that he is burning anything. I do not see you out there protecting someones right to burn leaves they racked off the lawn.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well....

“So you also support people burning a cross on their own front lawn across from black neighbors?”

I support their right to do that, yes. I do not support actually doing that and would condemn it — but I would never say it isn’t their right to do it.

“How about screeching obscenities at others?”

That depends on too many other factors to give a pat answer, so I’ll just say that it wouldn’t be the “obscenities” part that I think might be a problem.

“What if he the fire got out of hand and burned something down?”

Then he would be legally liable for that.

“its not that he burned a flag, it is that he is burning anything. I do not see you out there protecting someones right to burn leaves they racked off the lawn.”

You seem to be arguing that burning anything at all should be illegal. That’s fine, you can have that opinion, but that’s a very different and larger discussion.

For the record, I disagree with that opinion. If someone was arrested for engaging in the perfectly legal activity of burning their yard waste, then yes, I would defend them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Well....

“So you also support people burning a cross on their own front lawn across from black neighbors?”

Was this dude burning a flag on a neighbors property with the intent to harass said neighbor?

Yeah, your bad analogy is bad. According to the story, the irate folk saw it on FB – not in person.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Well....

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, it may not please me that they burn a cross but that is their choice and their responsibility. But personally, I consider it to be the action of someone who cannot think. One must remember that the cross is a symbol of what was given for the redemption of mankind by God Himself. To take on the punishment for all of our misdeeds, crimes, etc against the Most High Creator was the option that He chose for our sakes. The punishment for those crimes has been paid for and we now have the opportunity to avail ourselves of that particular act.

The cross is a cruel device of death and control. If someone wants to burn one, the message they are effectively saying is that that really don’t care for it. Governments of all kinds over the millennia have developed various measures for the control of populations. Some have been extremely cruel, such as the crucifixion. Others measures have included burning at the stake, throwing to wild beasts, boiling in oil, starvation, torture, tying bodies to the dead face to face, the guillotine, hanging, speared, arrowed, shot, imprisoned.

However, it is obvious that you do not have the capability of nuanced communication, nor do you appear to have the ability to argue any complex subject matter. Maybe, you should try your hand at thinking first about what actually matters to you and why, before commenting on such complex subjects such as speech and its protection.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Well....

There is fire on the ground in the picture. I do not care what he is burning but the fact that he is burning it in what appears to be an unsafe manor. He should do it over pavement or some other place.

If he were burning a cross he would have been arrested, if he were burning leaves he would have been fined.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/lb-williams-black-florida_n_1098306.html

I think it is clear you all are participating in a double standard.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well....

“I think it is clear you all are participating in a double standard.”

That’s not clear at all. Here’s the thing — if the problem was just that he was burning a thing in an unsafe or illegal manner and he got busted for it, I don’t think you’d hear many people jumping to his defense.

But that’s not what happened. He was arrested specifically because of the speech component of his actions, not because of perceived carelessness with fire.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: How are we supposed to destroy an old flag?

Burning it is the correct way to destroy it, but there’s a ceremony to go with it to make it a respectful retirement. The Boy Scouts do them a lot.

So the difference boils down to how you treat the flag when burning it, as well as intent. If you burned it with intent to desecrate it, then it’s obviously not a “proper” way to destroy the flag.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Agree, until someone does something dangerous.

But people can be arrested for burning leaves, a cross, or getting naked, or a lot of other things that harm no one. Apparently if you just do it with a flag, its protected speech, but if you do it with a cross you get to go to jail!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The circumstances of the cross-burning would determine its legality. Burning a cross can be free speech. It depends on why you’re doing it and where you’re doing it. Are you a KKK member intimidating black people? That could be perceived as a threat and be illegal. Are you an anti-theist who is making a 1st amendment-protected religious statement about Christianity? That’s likely protected speech unless your burn presents a danger to a person or property. Are you a person who is making a legal bonfire on a beach and happen to have an old couple of wooden boards in the shape of a cross lying around and include them in the burn? Perfectly legal unless the bonfire violates a local ordinance or statute.

The various laws that a person encounters will be different depending on many different factors such as the jurisdictions they’re in and the details of what exactly they do. Then there’s a whole other aspect of how lawyers would argue it in court and how a judge or a jury would decide its legality or the liability.

There’s a lot more nuance to law than you seem to think.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Context is important. If you said, “death to America” at the same time as burning an American flag, that could certainly be threatening (and would get you investigated by the FBI), but the “death to America” part is the actual threat that makes that an issue.

If random other people feel threatened when no direct threat is issued, that doesn’t suddenly make it a threat. Otherwise, you could say anything is threatening. You posting online is a threat! Me eating a hamburger is a threat!

He didn’t say he was going to hurt anyone or overthrow the government. As far as his post was concerned, he didn’t seem to say much about why he did it. He doesn’t have to justify it. The absence of an actual threat means he can’t be held liable for making a threat that doesn’t exist.

JMT says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Your double standards are clear and noted.”

As is your simplistic and rigid thinking about, well… everything.

“Burning the Flag could be perceived as a threat as well, why are once class of people protected from that perception but not others? That would be racism under the color of law.”

First, for flag burning to be considered a threat it would actually have to be threatening. Clearly that is not the case here. Second, race has nothing to do with it nor are we discussing different “classes of people”. Flag burning is an action, and it’s treated legally according to the context just like many other actions.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“That would be racism under the color of law.”

No, it wouldn’t. A black man burning the flag would undoubtedly be given the same treatment as the white guy.

You can’t genuinely be dumb enough to think that a black man burning a cross would be perceived the same by any intended target as a white man, and the law wouldn’t be the one making the distinction anyway.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If I were black and woke up in the middle of the night to find robed and hooded people standing just outside the fence of my front lawn burning a cross, I’d be pretty damn terrified. It might not be on my actual property, but expressing hostility towards me because I don’t look like them is frightening. And who’s to say it would end there?

This is a very different thing to some drunken prat setting fire to a flag. Unless it was in front of a vulnerable individual or group with the express intention of scaring them, leave him alone. If you don’t like what he did you’re not obliged to be his BFF or anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Where in the US is Hate Speech a crime? I am not aware of anywhere that you can be arrested for Hate Speech.

Now you can be charged with a hate crime, which is selecting a victim primarily or solely based on their protected class (varies by jurisdiction) and even then what it takes to rise to that level varies by jurisdiction. Also, you can be arrested for inciting a riot, advocating or calling for a crime (which usually is a RICO or conspiracy to commit charge), or something similar. However that does not require Hate Speech unless you water down any call for death to anyone even just “kill that guy” as Hate Speech.

At least as far as I know. If you know of a case in the US where a person has been charged, convicted, and the conviction upheld for only what they said to and not a violent act upon another person I would like to know about it because that would be a big issue.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Hate crime” in the US is a misnomer. There is no such standalone crime that you could be charged with — it’s a sentencing modifier.

If you do an act which is illegal (regardless of any “hate” component) and it was clear that your act targeting a specific protected group, then that fact can be used to make your punishment harsher than it would otherwise have been. But you still have to be convicted of an underlying crime first before that sort of thing even comes into play.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Where in the US is Hate Speech a crime? I am not aware of anywhere that you can be arrested for Hate Speech.

OK, I was mistaken about it being a crime. With so many calls to criminalize it, I thought it was already being treated as such.

It will probably get you hassled though, especially if used against Muslims. I don’t just mean from SJWs. I’m almost certain I’ve read articles about the police being sent to investigate people who have made racial slurs even if they didn’t actually threaten any violence.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

This kinda strikes me as odd...

Champaign-Urbana is a big college town (U of I has main campus there).

but yes, 1982 Texas vs Johnson and recently the WBC decicion clearly states that unpopular speech is still free speech. I may not agree with it, but it is still their right to say what they want (within limits of course). I mean, if a Florida pastor can get away with burning a holy book….

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think the police realize that whether or not they like or hate this guy, they just made him many millions in a civil suit. (Which could have been the endgame point all along).

Wonder if they’ll re-arrest him for annoying people by suddenly becoming extremely wealthy? then he’ll just become wealthier…repeat ad nauseam….

afn29129 (profile) says:

arrested but not charged...

Arrested.. Which means, mugs shot, finger prints, probably handcuffs and a holding cell.

Now that the State’s Attorney has decided not to press charges there isn’t anyway to undo the humiliating experience that Mr Mellott had to go through. His mugs shot can’t be un-published. Fingerprints cant be un-taken. The arrest can’t be made to of never of happened.

“The State’s Attorney’s Office is declining to file charges against (Bryton) Mellott as the act of burning a flag is protected free speech according to the US Supreme Court decision, Texas v. Johnson, 491 US 397 (1989).

We have considered 720 ILCS 5/49-1, Flag Desecration, an Illinois statute currently in effect. This statute was the basis for the decision by Urbana Police officers to arrest Mellott. While that statute remains in effect, it is contradictory to the US Supreme Court ruling in Texas v. Johnson. We will be discussing this issue with our local legislators and asking that they consider reviewing this statute given the constitutional issues it presents.”

LOL at asking the IL legislators to review the law because they surely knew that when they voted for the law (in 2013) it was a ridiculous law. Until the law is removed from the books in IL it can be wielded against any future flag-burner.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: arrested but not charged...

“The arrest can’t be made to of never of happened.”

This is a very important point. In my state, lots of entities (landlords, employers, etc.), consider an arrest as a pretty big black mark on you, regardless of whether or not it was followed by a conviction. I know of a couple of landlords who will not rent to someone with an arrest record, period.

People seem to take the position that an arrest is an indication of guilt.

Alkurhah says:

Re: Re: arrested but not charged...

I know of a couple of landlords who will not rent to someone with an arrest record, period.

Yep, it seems to be becoming common. The last few lease and employment applications I filled out have all wanted to know if I had ever been arrested for anything. And even if you can afford a lawyer to take it to court to have it expunged from the “official” record, there are still many private databases that it will live on in forever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Obviously a civil rights violation

His constitutional rights have been violated. He was locked up for his expression and free speech. This is a false arrest.

Law enforcement can’t lock him up for expression and speaking his mind. He’s not the one committing a crime. Others committed the crime. They should be investigated and arrested.

There’s no distorted logic that can apply to what the police did here.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don't get why people get so upset over burning the flag

I am proud to be American, proud of what the flag symbolizes, but I couldn’t care less if someone burns it. I am also a Christian and I don’t get excited if someone burns a bible. What people do or say is a reflection on themselves and has nothing to do with me.

I am no first amendment expert, but I would rather error on the side of too much speech than not enough.

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