Utah teenager faces a year in prison for stomping on a 'Back the Blue' sign while smirking
via David Geitgey Sierralupe / Flickr

One of the greatest things about being an American is freedom of speech. The First Amendment guarantees every American the right to speak their mind without fear of reprisal for having an unpopular, offensive, or downright dangerous opinion.

In America, speech is such a protected act that you can burn the American flag because it's seen as a "symbolic speech." There's something special about a country that values individual expression over protecting a symbol of the state.


However, authoritarians of all political stripes are constantly making rules that impinge on these sacred freedoms. Most recently, a police officer in Panguitch, Utah arrested a 19-year-old woman for stomping on a "Back the Blue" sign, crumbling it up, and throwing it in a trashcan. The signs had recently been printed up by the local Sheriff's department.

The officer also complained that she did so "while smirking in an intimidating manner towards me." The incident happened while the officer was making a traffic stop at a gas station.

Here's the "Back the Blue" symbol for those who are unfamiliar.

Now, the interaction should have stopped there. The officer may have been bothered by her anti-cop rhetoric, but that's not justification to arrest someone. The officer is probably in the wrong business if they're offended by someone stomping on a pro-police sign while "smirking."

But the cop took things a step further by questioning the woman about where she got the sign. First, she said it was her mother's, but the police believed she "had acquired it in our community." The woman later admitted to finding the sign on the ground.

The woman was then read her Miranda rights.

"Due to [the woman] destroying property that did not belong to her in a manner to attempt to intimidate law enforcement, I placed her under arrest," the affidavit says. The allegations against the woman are being treated as a "hate crime enhanced allegation" due to "the demeanor displayed by [the woman] in attempts to intimidate law enforcement while destroying a 'Pro Law Enforcement' sign."

Utah law states that anybody who destroys property with the intent to "intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe that his action would intimidate or terrorize that person" is subject to a class A misdemeanor.

The law also defines "intimidate or terrorize" as "an act which causes the person to fear for his physical safety or damages the property of that person or another."

The woman faces up to a year in prison or a fine of up to $2,500.

If the police officer was truly doing their job they would have acknowledged that the woman was simply exercising her freedom of speech, a right that law enforcement is bound to protect.

Instead, the officer seems to have taken the low road and arrested the woman for hurting their feelings. It's hard to believe that a gun-carrying officer would feel terrorized by someone because they were smirking at them.

If setting fire to an American flag representing the entire country is protected as "symbolic speech" then stomping on a sign of an American flag with a blue line that only represents a small fraction of Americans should surely be protected as well.

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