“United Snakes of Amerikkka – Amnesia / Founded on the Genocide of Indigenous People / Over 389 Legal Binding Treaties, None Honored / Luv Your Mother – Stop Driving / This is Indian Land / Free Leonard Peltier”
Lots of people say contemptible things about the United States in Berkeley, California, but this flag display was something else. It was a physical manifestation of the impassioned hatred that the radical fringe in Berkeley feels towards its country. This country, they forget, grants them the most generous rights in the world.
I was on my way to picking up a book by C.S. Lewis at a local bookshop when I came across Old Glory, hanging upside down, lashed to a chain-linked fence, and left to rot in the elements. Scrawled on the white stripes were the nearly incomprehensible words of an angry movement frustrated by reality. The group that had abused this flag had also sat in trees for nearly two years until the university had them cut down in 2008, but that’s another story.
Passersby ignored the flag—they considered this display typical. It would have been easy to do the same; after all, in this town, one must learn to pick his battles carefully.
Something moved me, though. I ran home, got my scissors, and cut it down. As I did, a filthy man started running at me from across the street, shouting, “Hey, f*** you, put that back, you hear me? F*** you!” I quickly walked home, taking side streets so he wouldn’t follow me. A couple of weeks later, I disposed of the flag by giving it to the Marine Recruitment Center, which had been declared “unwelcome” by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission and the City Council in 2008.
There is a limit to savage disrespect for one’s country. That limit is crossed the minute someone decides to desecrate an American flag in public. Although the Supreme Court has ruled that no level of government may prohibit the desecration of the flag, there remain rules that outline proper etiquette. US Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8 and Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 1 specifically state:
(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
Furthermore, California MVC Code Section 614 states the following: “a person is guilty of a misdemeanor who knowingly casts contempt upon any Flag of the United States or of this state by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon it.”
Not only was the treatment of the flag despicable, but also it was also illegal—not that the city cared, anyway. F*** you, America was its message, too.
[Note: the desecration of the flag is illegal in the technical sense of the word, not prosecutable.]