Free Speech

Just over a week ago, as I’m sure many of you know, Champaign-Urbana was rocked by a controversy that made actual national headlines. Yes, of course, here is the inevitable, predictable comment on the great July 4th flag-burning, idiotic-comment-section-inducing and overall-pretty-confusing fiasco.

The argument here is not about whether Bryson Mellott burning the American flag was illegal — it wasn’t — not even the most blindly patriotic Trump supporter, nor the United States Supreme Court, can deny this fact. It’s protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Burning the flag is a real dick move, for sure, but nothing that would warrant any type of punishment by law, something that the American judicial system has seen to for 17 years so far.

This then begs the question of why the flag burner was arrested by Urbana Police at his work place, based entirely off of a Facebook photo of him holding a burning flag. In addition to being one of the most archaic laws on the books, the law that was used to arrest Mellott had also already been ruled unconstitutional by a relatively important U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Texas v. Johnson, in 1989. Did the arresting officers simply not check if they were arresting him under an unconstitutional law? Were they trying to make an example out of Mellott to prove some bizarre patriotic point? Was he arrested for his own safety, and if so, why? Surely with such a trivially controversial issue, the police would at least check with somebody before seemingly gnawing at the bit to throw Mellott in jail.

As much as I am inclined to try to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone, this seems like a clear instance of law enforcement taking the law into their own hands and charging a kid who makes a reckless decision with a crime, based not one iota in any rule of law, but rather just to make a point about patriotism. Luckily, State’s Attorney Julia Reitz has dropped all charges against Mellott, but it surely makes you think: if cops are capable of violating federal rulings and stripping an innocent person of their human rights for a few hours, based on nothing and for no reason at all, who has the ability to check their power? Right now, it seems like a little too much police power is going over unchecked, and this unfortunately seems like a more mild local version

Trump Supporters

In another strikingly clear sign that society as a whole is on the brink of collapse, someone wearing a “Make America Mexico Again” hat was physically assaulted at a concert at the University of Illinois’ Research Park last weekend. I just don’t know where to start on this one. Perhaps a good of place as any, however, is the setting of the whole thing, which took place at Research Park’s OUTSIDE concert, an early-evening, family-friendly concert.

Apparently that doesn’t stop Trump supporters, though. They’ll attack you at a family-friendly concert just for wearing a hat they find offensive. Damn! How ironic, the subset of our population that is obsessed with tearing down American political correctness is so easily offended by a printed hat. Surely someone else sees the irony there, right?

Please, for the love of everything, do some research on the xenophobic wave that is taking the world (and apparently Champaign-Urbana) by storm and help rational people everywhere try to stop Donald Trump in November. And voting for him just because he’s the Republican nominee and you’re a Republican doesn’t count as an excuse; we all know the heinous things he’s said and suggested on massive platforms. Do you research and really think long and hard about if we really want a glib and bigoted reality T.V. star to be our country’s Commander in Chief. If we don’t stand up to this type of unacceptable human attitude towards one another, I have a feeling that the events like that which happened at Research Park this weekend will become all the more common.

(This song is fairly explicit; play with caution)

Peaceful Protest

I usually like to end these columns on a good note after I’ve complained over the past two points. Today is no exception.

Sure, with the local instances mentioned above and the shockingly common national issue of police killing black men, it’s easy to write the news off. It’s easy to say that we’re all fucked, lose yourself in the new Pokemon and forget about the real world as long as you can.

But that’s not what protest organizers in Champaign-Urbana were doing this past Friday. No, instead of merely falling silent or turning angry, protestors gathered on Friday night between Black Dog and Derailed in Downtown Champaign. When I showed up, I expected the same rhetoric that I experienced at nearly every protest I attended in college, but after staying for a while, I realized that something about this one was different; something was special.

Instead of fighting against the police, protestors worked with the police to set up a safe space for protest and to let traffic function as normal over the course of the two-hour event. The Champaign Police Department gave its citizens the right to air their grievances, but instead of blindly screaming or doing anything non-constructive, the protesters instead used music and poetry as a way of voicing their concerns. Hip-hop duo Mother Nature event performed a track or two, as well as countless poets, writers, and activists.

A lot of times I want to leave C-U, but on Friday night when I got to watch all of these young community members rally for change, and have the respect of the police, it really made me realize what a strong thing we have going in this town. These national events are absolutely tragic, there’s no other way to put it, but Champaign has shown us that it is capable of rising above it and moving on to something more constructive than blind anger: art. On Friday, I had Champaign pride, which is usually just something I talk about to try to be ironic, but instead, it was very much legitimate.

Photo by Robin Scholz, The News-Gazette