An Illinois man was arrested on July 4 after a Facebook post that showed him burning an American flag captioned with the hashtag "#ArrestMe."
Bryton Mellott, 22, posted a photo of himself burning an American flag accompanied by a three-paragraph post in which Mellott said he was ashamed to be an American. The post, which sparked outrage from social media users, worried Urbana police, who said they took action after commentators online began to threaten the Wal-Mart where Mellott worked, according to the News-Gazette.
Urbana Sgt. Andrew Charles said that while people are free to make unpopular statements, it becomes a law enforcement matter when their words put others at risk.
"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 Urbana police in a statement regarding Mellott's case.
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Mellott was arrested for charges of flag desecration and disorderly conduct, and the police report also listed him as a victim of disorderly conduct. Flag desecration is a class 4 felony in Illinois, according to Rockfeed.
In the post that sparked controversy, Mellott said that was not proud to be an American because of what he said were the country's racist and sexist attitudes.
"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," said Mellott in the post.
"I do not have pride in my country. I am overwhelmingly ashamed, and I will demonstrate my feelings accordingly. #ArrestMe," the post concluded.
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Before his arrest, Charles said that the police had spoken with Mellott, and told him that while authorities "understood his freedom of speech," they were concerned that his posts were putting people at risk. After their conversation, said Charles, Mellott continued to post similar statuses on Facebook, which is when police decided to take action.
State Attorney Julia Reitz said that while she hadn't yet received an official report on the case, flag desecration laws have been found unconstitutional. Mellott is due in court July 5 to be arraigned on the charges.