Five Things Flag Burning Tells Us about the Police and Their Supporters

Older man assaults younger man for burning a flag

This meme went viral over Independence Day weekend. In it, a collage of photos shows a young man burning an American Flag and an older man snatching the flag from the flames, shoving it into the younger man’s face and pushing him down on the ground.

Regardless of how you feel about flag burning, you should know that the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that it is an act of protected free speech under the First Amendment. You should also know that initiating physical violence on someone for burning the flag is not exercising your First Amendment rights; it is the criminal act of assault. Being aware of these two facts already puts you way  ahead of the cops and cop apologists posting at Survive the Streets: A Page for Cops and Police Beat, two pro-police Facebook pages that shared the series of images above.

The comments left on the pages speak volumes about the cops and cop apologists who wrote them, and it isn’t that they are fine upstanding Americans.

Most of the police comments on the flag burning photos fell into one or more of the following categories:

  • Praise for the unarguably illegal act of assaulting another person
  • Assurances that they would either find a convenient excuse to not be in the immediate area when they knew a flag burner was being beaten, or exercise their discretion by not arresting the aggressor
  • Threats that they would arrest anyone burning the flag because it was illegal (no, it’s not), or that they would fish for other excuses to arrest them like “starting a fire without a permit”
If you can't beat 'em, rape 'em!

And then there’s this guy. If you can’t beat ’em, rape ’em!

This shows us that…

1. No, Cops Do Not Protect Our Rights

It’s amazing that anyone can even still say this one with a straight face anymore. There are so many examples of how stomping on our rights is now standard operating procedure for most law enforcement agencies, that it’s hard to even know where to start (how about planting evidence to frame people,  charging people with assaulting an officer because they wriggled in their handcuffs, outright theft, and everything in this entire article).

Out of thousands of comments, only a few correctly stated that there was no cause to arrest the person who burned the flag, and that even if they agreed with his actions, the law dictates that the older man would have to be arrested for assault.  Which leads us to…

2. Even When They Know We Are Watching, Cops Still Can’t Behave Themselves


See how many people liked this guy’s comment? That’s about the same number of people that listened to him.

3. Cops Do Not Know the Laws They Enforce (And it Doesn’t Matter)

Cops and cop apologists are fond of dismissing those who criticize police misconduct as “having gotten their Facebook Law degrees,” however  they often seem pretty unclear  on basic tenets of the law themselves, including simple things like how it’s unlawful to use physical force on people when you don’t like what they say or do. The sad reality is that there’s no requirement for cops to actually be knowledgeable about the law. In fact the Supreme Court ruled last year that it’s perfectly legal for cops to detain you for breaking a law that doesn’t even exist and then search your property for evidence of a real crime.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse

4. Cops Already Choose Not to Help People They Don’t Like

It’s likely that you’ve already heard cop apologists claim that cops are so valiant that they would still put their lives on the line for ungrateful citizens who criticize them. The cops commenting online didn’t seem to have any hesitation about not intervening to help an assault victim when they didn’t agree with his politics. Talk is cheap, especially on the internet, but this flows from a long history of refusing to intervene on behalf of groups they don’t deem worthy of protection.

Take for example, the Civil Rights era, which was full of incidents like the Montgomery, Alabama Freedom Ride, where police conveniently disappeared right before a bus full of civil rights activists was attacked by a violent mob of racists:

President John F. Kennedy was concerned about the violence and bus burning that had occurred during the first Freedom Ride the previous week. He telephoned the governor of Alabama and insisted that it was the government’s responsibility to guarantee safe passage of interstate travelers. A bus with police and helicopter escort was then sent to Birmingham to take the Freedom Rides on to Montgomery. Once the group arrived in Montgomery however, the protection disappeared and more violence ensued. A crowd of three hundred gathered. Approximately twenty-five of them armed with clubs and sticks began beating the newsmen and cameramen.

James Zwerg, a young white man, got off the bus and was greeted with chants of “Kill the nigger-loving son of a bitch!” He was beaten to the ground and never attempted to defend himself, even as his face was stomped into the ground. The mob turned its attention to the rest of the riders and everyone was beaten.

After what has been reported as anywhere from five to twenty minutes, police came and used tear gas to break up the crowd, which had grown to a thousand.

5. Cop Apologists Are Some of the Worst People in the World, Perhaps Even Worse Than Abusive Cops Themselves

As bad as the comments were from cops, they were topped by the ones from their rabid supporters. It really seems there could never be an incident of police misconduct or blatant rights violation that the unprincipled mob of cop apologists wouldn’t greet with screams of, “MORE! Make it worse next time!”

Even as more and more leaders in law enforcement emphasize de-escalation and promote adopting a guardian rather than warrior approach to policing, cop apologists just double down on defending the indefensible in police behavior.

Cop Apologist Humor Q: What's wrong with this photo?  A: He should have showered them with bullets

Cop Apologist Humor
Q: What’s wrong with this photo?
A: He should have watered them with bullets.