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Stomping the flag becomes a debate about patriotism

Jacobo De La Rosa

This past May, a new social media trend known as the Eric Sheppard challenge has outraged veterans, members of the military and Americans all over the nation. It has also empowered a movement in support of free speech.

Sheppard, who is an African-American student at Valdosta State University, stomped on the American flag during a student protest on April 17, while declaring himself  a “terrorist against white people.” In videos recorded by students, Sheppard is seen stomping the flag and saying it represents white supremacy and racism. He has called for everyone to stomp on the flag in order to step on racism and white supremacy.

Because the law protects freedom of speech, the Valdosta campus police said he was within his rights and did not arrest Sheppard in spite of the student body outcry. However, Sheppard faced prosecution after police found a hand gun in Sheppard’s backpack.

Carrying firearms at a university is prohibited in Georgia. The Valdosta police chief said at a press conference that Sheppard was not being targeted by police for exercising his freedom of speech, but because he had introduced a gun to the campus.

A warrant for the arrest of Sheppard was issued and he was eventually arrested in Tampa, Fla. In the meantime, the #ericsheppardchallenge began to grow, and followers and supporters of Sheppard mimicked his actions and began walking over the flag as a means to promote freedom of speech as well as to protest racism.

Mimicking movements such as the #icebucketchallenge that went viral in the past to support a noble cause, the #ericsheppardchallenge appears to be dividing Americans and has inspired counter-challenge movements such as  #FlyTheAmericanFlagProudly and the #NeverOutgunned social media movements.   

When it comes to the legality of Sheppard’s actions, he was within his constitutional rights, said UTEP political science professor Todd Curry.

“There is a certain irony when expressing politically unpopular viewpoints: the more people you make angry, the more efficient job you are doing.  Furthermore, his method of speech was entirely legal,” Curry said. 

Curry also said that when a speech is political in nature and it is done with accordance to the law, the law does not care about motivation.

“When we begin considering the motivation of the speaker before making determinations about its legality, we begin to privilege certain types of speech over others.  Freedom of speech isn’t selective.” Curry said. “There would be no need for the First Amendment if all speech was supportive of the political system.  The First Amendment protects contentious speech, critical speech, minority opinions.”

Bilingual education major Estephanie Ronquillo said that stepping on the flag was just plain disrespectful.

“I don’t think that’s the right way to promote freedom of speech,” Ronquillo said. “If this were to ever spread to UTEP, I think I would say something or try to stop it.”

However, Professor Curry thinks the probability of this trend making its way to El Paso is highly unlikely since there is a very small African-American population in the city.

“It should be welcomed if some students do wish to engage in it. Speech protections should be the strongest on college campuses to allow for a true marketplace of ideas,” Curry said.

Darius Brown, junior accounting major, said he understood why people would get offended by it, but freedom of speech is a right every American has.

“There are probably better ways to promote freedom of speech, but if you want to carry a point across you have to get controversial,” Brown said. “If this were to happen on campus, I wouldn’t do anything, just let them do whatever they want. It’s not really none of my business.”

Juan Raygoza may be reached at [email protected].

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  • T

    tiffany bellJun 23, 2015 at 6:43 PM

    The U.S. flag should be taken down because it stands for oppression as
    surely as the swastika means Nazis. The Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S.
    flag was the origin of the Nazi salute and Nazi behavior under German
    National Socialism (that is one of the amazing discoveries by the historian
    Dr. Rex Curry). Only the gesture has changed to hide the pledge’s putrid
    past (and present). The pledge was written by a socialist and was used to
    impose government schools (socialist schools). Those schools imposed
    segregation by law and taught racism as official policy to generations. The
    bad behavior long outlasted German socialism. It is impossible to quantify
    the damage that was done and that continues. Even after some school
    segregation ended the government continued its racism and used forced busing
    to destroy black neighborhoods. The old media will never print a historic
    photograph or film footage of the early gesture. One photograph shows a
    segregated class forced to perfrom the early stiff-armed salute. The U.S. flag
    flew for generations over the old slavery too, as well as the modern slavery
    in the current police state. The pledge continues to be the source of
    Nazi-style behavior. It is why bad people loudly tout the Pledge of
    Allegiance: in a effort to perpetuate and revive that mentality. Some of
    them do it with the earlier gesture, to promote “American heritage.” Remove
    the pledge from the flag; remove the flag from schools; remove schools from
    government. Take down the U.S. flag. To many, it is a symbol of racial
    hatred and oppression. #ConfederateFlag #TakeItDown #USflag

  • B

    Barbara StrattonJun 23, 2015 at 6:23 PM

    Please be aware Eric Sheppard was not arrested for stomping the flag or for his campus rhetoric which is indeed protected under freedom of speech. He was arrested for having a gun in his backpack while he was on the college campus expressing his opinions which is illegal in GA. He also issued a very questionable manifesto against local law enforcement while he was on the run. At present he is out on bond & restricted to his parents custodial watch while he awaits trial for the weapons charges. It is dishonest to portray his charges as being related to free speech. He spent several days expressing his free speech & when a military veteran tried to rescue the flag from the ground it was taken from her & returned to him by the campus security.

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Stomping the flag becomes a debate about patriotism