22-year-old Bryton Mellott was arrested by Urbana Police yesterday and charged with desecrating the American flag and disorderly conduct. Mellott’s demonstration was discovered after he smeared his handiwork all over Facebook:
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 on Facebook in a post.
Bryton Mellott was booked into the Campaign [sic] County Jail at about 9:47 a.m. Monday after police received numerous calls from citizens concerned about his safety and theirs. The calls started coming in around 7:30 a.m., Sgt. Andrew Charles told [Forbes] over the phone.
The Champaign/Urbana area is a heavy population center in Illinois and its residents (many of whom are college students) are predominately left leaning. Mellott, who identifies as “queer,” represents an extreme end of Illinois’s political spectrum. His outburst, outside of capturing the attention of his Facebook and Tumblr friends, caught the ire of his neighbors, who were rightfully concerned. However, while Mellott seems unbalanced and would be my bet to spearhead the next mass shooting, he didn’t do anything illegal.
In a 5:4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled nearly 30 years ago that flag burning is symbolic speech and protected under the First Amendment. The late Justice Scalia wrote in concurrence with the court’s decision, stating that flag burning (and similar forms of “symbolic speech”) cannot be limited, especially considering Americans are supposed to burn and bury tattered and worn-out flags. To prosecute someone on flag burning is to determine intent and limit free speech. Despite several House of Representative attempts to push a ban on flag burning, the bill always fizzles out in the Senate, and thus the late ’80s precedent remains law. Overall, the US flag embodies such a sense of freedom that even the flag itself is not completely safe from demonstration.
This case gets murky when you consider flag burning is a class-four felony in Illinois, but grudgingly permissible under federal law. Moreover, the constitution’s supremacy clause says that federal law trumps local/state law. If Mellott was arrested solely on his flag-burning demonstration, the arrest would be considered unconstitutional. The Urbana police’s saving grace may be the disorderly conduct charge they slapped on him, reasoning that Mellott ‘committed an act that was “causing others to be put at risk of harm.”
I laud the judgement of the Urbana Police to hit Mellott with a secondary charge, considering the first one is almost guaranteed to be thrown out. This kid looks like a huge, privileged, entitled prick, and that mixture, in tandem with a touch of crazy, can be deadly. At least they’re squeezing this kid’s nuts a little.
Even if it takes limiting a different constitutional right, I hope Illinois finds a way to ensure Mellott never gets his hands on a gun..
Image via Facebook