Illinois Man Won’t Be Charged in Arrest Following Photos of Burning U.S. Flag

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An Illinois man arrested after he posted a picture of himself burning an American flag over the holiday weekend will not be charged, a state’s attorney said Tuesday.

Bryton Mellott, 22, was arrested on Sunday by police in Urbana, who said they had received complaints from social media users who had seen Mellot’s post. Other callers expressed concern for Mellot’s safety as some people online threatened to cause him harm, police said.

According to The News-Gazette of Champaign, Bryton Mellott, 22, posted several photos on Facebook on July 3 showing him burning the American flag. On the photo post, he included a statement about why he is “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,” Mellott wrote.

The photo were shared thousands of times on Facebook.

Urbana Sgt. Andrew Charles told the newspaper that his department started receiving calls about the Facebook photos. Charles looked at the post and said he saw many people making violent threats directed at Mellott and his place of employment, Walmart.

Police said they made the arrest under a 2013 Illinois flag desecration law “to try to assure the safety of the public and Mr Mellott.”

The law allows for prosecution of individuals who publicly mutilate or deface a flag.

Supreme Court ruling

However, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said charges would not be filed against Mellott because the Illinois flag desecration statute was contradictory to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed flag burning protected by the First Amendment.

The ruling, Texas v. Johnson, came after a Texas court’s conviction of Gregory Lee Johnson, who burned an American flag outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas in a protest against President Ronald Reagan.

The Supreme Court overturned the Texas court’s ruling, saying flag burning constituted “symbolic speech.”

Mellott’s Facebook posts

Writing on his Facebook page, Mellott said he believes “blind nationalism is a corrosive thing.”

“If you have pride then that’s fine, but I don’t. This is me, not having pride. Not attacking others who disagree. Someday I hope that changes. But that change starts with recognizing that there are problems; fundamental problems that very much stem from nationalistic attitudes,” he added.

Reviewing Illinois law

Urbana police said they respected the decision not to proceed with filing charges. The Rietz’s office said it would ask Illinois legislators to consider reviewing the state’s flag desecration law “given the constitutional issues it presents.”

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