A U.S. veteran found herself arrested and banned from the campus of Valdosta State University in Georgia after she tried to take an American flag from protesters who were stomping on it.
The incident, which occurred Friday, can be seen on a video recently posted to Liveleak:
A group of protesters hoping to show their contempt for the United States had unfurled a flag on the ground, and were walking on top of it. Michelle Manhart, who served in the Air Force, told the Valdosta Daily Times that she didn’t know what the group’s cause was, but that she was determined to protect the flag from being disrespected after hearing about the protest from a Valdosta student.
“I was just going over there to pick up the flag off the ground,” Manhart said. “I don’t know what their cause is, but I went to pick it up because it doesn’t deserve to be on the ground.”
Once Manhart arrived, the situation escalated, as can be seen in the video. Manhart grabbed the flag, and refused to relinquish it.
“It belongs to, actually, the entire United States,” Manhart says in the video when somebody demands that she return the flag.
Police soon arrived on the scene to try to contain the confrontation, though their presence led at least one onlooker to claim the police were being more restrained with Manhart (who is white) than they would have been with a black person in a similar situation.
“I swear to God, if this woulda been in the hood, you’d have had her in your handcuffs already!” the onlooker (who may also have been a protester) yelled. “Look at that white privilege.”
Despite the onlooker’s complaint, however, police very soon did have Manhart in handcuffs, forcing her to the ground after she refused to hand over the flag. Manhart was then taken to a squad car and whisked away. Despite getting their flag back, the protesters dispersed moments later, after refusing to comply with police requests to show student IDs.
Manhart was later released without charges, the Daily Times reports. However, she was given a criminal trespass warning from VSU, which effectively bans her from campus as well as university events like graduation.
It’s not clear what the protesting group’s name is (if it has one) or what precise cause it was protesting for (if there is one), as the group refused to speak to the press. However, the Daily Times overheard one protester telling a VSU student that they were trying to show contempt for the symbols of their “slavemaster.”
“When a slave understands his situation and understands he doesn’t want to be in slavery, he does not respect or revere anything his slavemaster has put in front of him,” the student said. That statement, combined with the fact the protesters were all (or almost all) black, suggests the protest may have been regarding racial issues.
If that’s the case, Manhart told the Daily Times, then she is sympathetic to their cause, though not their method of protest.
“If your cause is racism then find some white people and walk on them,” she said. I’m not fighting against them. I’m fighting against the way they are going about it.”
VSU President William McKinney released a statement Saturday pointing out that even protests desecrating the flag are constitutionally protected.
“The American flag represents everything that is best about our country,” McKinney said. “As the Supreme Court has held, one of those things is the right to free speech, which includes the right to disrespect even the symbol of our country.”