Miami Cops Tweet Photo of Themselves Breaking U.S. Flag Code

Miami Cops Tweet Photo of Themselves Breaking U.S. Flag Code
City of Miami Police via Twitter

Will Donald Trump strip a group of Miami cops and U.S. military veterans of their citizenship?

If he makes good on his promise to crack down hard on anyone caught desecrating the U.S. flag, he'll now have to: Today the City of Miami Police Department tweeted a photo of a group of military veteran officers signing their names on an American flag.

As well-intentioned as the gesture was, the cops perhaps should have checked out the U.S. Flag Code, a collection of federal laws. According to Section G, the U.S. 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."

To be crystal clear: No one should really take issue with a group of veterans, cops, or anyone writing anything on the flag. People who've served in the armed forces have earned their right to write whatever the hell they want on Old Glory. Writing on the flag is a clear display of free speech, and U.S. courts have consistently upheld that idea.

The issue, instead, is ideological consistency. Today's tweet shows why opening the "arrest people who desecrate the flag" Pandora's box is a silly idea.

The debate over flag desecration has been clumsily thrust back into the national conversation after president-elect and barely disguised Twitter egg Trump tweeted this week that he thinks anyone caught burning the U.S. flag should be thrown in jail for a year or subject to "loss of citizenship."

Of course, no one actually enforces the flag code. (Under the code, it's also illegal to turn the flag into clothing, but no one is conducting raids on the Chubbies shorts company for peddling illegal flag-shorts to college freshmen.) The last time anyone tried to institute criminal penalties for breaking the code in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional. That means Trump has a near-impossible bar to clear before arresting anyone for flag desecration.

But the issue at play here is not so much the fact that Miami cops broke the Flag Code as it is a question of Trump's political consistency: If he wants to crack down on flag desecration, he'll have to answer questions as to how far that crackdown might go and whether he'd choose to prosecute anyone caught breaking the Flag Code. That group now includes military veterans and members of a big-city U.S. police force.

The national Fraternal Order of Police, to which the City of Miami cops belong, has thrown overwhelming support behind Trump. The force's union chief, Javier Ortiz, has also been a vocal Trump supporter on social media.

Sarah Palin inspired a brief kerfuffle in 2010 after she signed a flag on camera. Palin says she supports a constitutional amendment outlawing flag desecration, and critics then questioned whether she'd turn herself in to jail if the nation passed a harsher flag-desecration law.

Miami Police wrapped themselves in a much larger flag-related controversy in April 2015: After Assistant Police Chief Anita Najiy was filmed on video declining to give the Pledge of Allegiance, Ortiz the union chief accused Najiy of disrespecting the United States and then spread a false theory that she might have been Muslim.

Ortiz said last year that cops who don't respect the flag violate a duty that “must be exercised when wearing a law enforcement uniform.”


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