Author’s note: some links given once below cover more than one piece of information included.
COMMENTARY | Back in the day, as the saying goes, it used to be a matter of loose lips in bar rooms or on the front stoop. Usually, only a few people heard a “terroristic threat,” and nothing would happen. In the age of social media, however, those platforms are beginning to function as extra men in police departments, and more and more people, some of them basically youngsters, are being charged under terror statutes and spending at least some time in jail for making cyberspace threats.
In a quite recent case, Remel Newson, 20, of Queens took to Facebook to exhort his “friends” and others to “KILLALL WHITES [sic],” and more specifically, “LET’S KILL COPS ND NEIGHBO RHOOD WATCHER [sic].” He was arrested for his threats July 17th, four days after the Zimmerman verdict in Florida, and for good measure, charged with pot possession.
In another recent situation, a 15-year-old Illinois boy was charged with disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony, for making a similar threat on Twitter in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict: “If Zimmerman free imma shoot everybody in Zion [IL] causing a mass homicide, and ill get away wit it just like Zimmerman [sic].” The “mass homicide” terminology made many headlines around July 13th. In this case, authorities decided that there was no credibility to the threat, which is a good thing for the kid in question since Illinois law ostensibly would have allowed “terroristic threat” charges; an Illinois “terroristic threat” involves intention to coerce or intimidate “a significant portion of the population” as defined in Section 29D-10 (l, 1), and that section definitely would seem to cover language like “mass homicide.” Additionally, Illinois law specifically states that ability or inability to carry out the threat is irrelevant and “not a defense to a prosecution under this Section.” So while this young man’s parents were reported as “furious” about his arrest, perhaps they should re-think that.
In less current but not really old incidents, three other young men (now) face quite serious charges for threats on social media, one involving rap lyrics that mentioned the White House and the Boston Marathon bombing, and two others for threats against schools. One of these cases involved a threat during an online video game to shoot kindergartners. In that case, then 18-year-old Texan Justin Carter followed his threat with “lol.” That didn’t matter. Authorities arrested him, and he was slapped with a $500,000 bond.
Memo to angry young people or comics who intend to spout off on social media about something they have no actual connection to: Settle down. Think about “it” for a week. The First Amendment has long been a qualified right. Not only are the police monitoring your nonsense by searching keywords, but everybody else who might see your rant knows how to call them.