After Dallas, People Are Being Arrested for Posting Inflammatory Comments Online
Speech protections are being denied for those who harshly criticize law enforcement online, The Intercept has reported.
In Detroit, four men were arrested this past week after posting allegedly inflammatory and “threatening” comments online. While we know that in one of the tweets that led to an arrest, Micah Johnson, or the sniper who shot and killed Dallas police officers, was praised as a hero, the authorities have yet to release the names of the men who were arrested.
What’s troubling about these arrests, The Intercept report suggests, is that neither of the four men allegedly arrested over online posts were charged with a crime.
Without acknowledging whether his wishes contradict the arrestees’ First Amendment protections, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said that he wants the men his team arrested “charged with crimes. … I’ve directed my officers to prepare warrants for these four individuals, and we’ll see which venue is the best to pursue charges.”
But to Bruce Schneier, a security technologist at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University who talked to The Intercept, “arresting people for speech is something we should be very careful about.”
In Connecticut, Facebook user Kurt Vanzuuk was arrested after writing a post claiming that the Dallas sniper was a hero. Vanzuuk allegedly called for the police to be killed. He was later charged with inciting injury to persons over his post.
Ronald Medina, a New Jersey resident, was charged with cyber harassment after allegedly posting that he would “destroy the Perth Amboy police headquarters” on an unidentified form of social media.
Jenesis Reynolds, another Facebook user from Illinois, was also arrested for writing that she would “have no problem shooting a cop for simple traffic stop [because] they’d have no problem doing it to me.” Officers charged Reynolds with “disorderly conduct.”
While “posting that kind of thing on social media is a bad thought,” professor Larry Dubin of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law said, “having a bad thought isn’t necessarily a crime.”
To professor of law at Northeastern University Daniel Medwed, “threats may seem more threatening to police officers around the country” after Dallas, which may cause law enforcement to go after inflammatory speech. “We might be seeing more arrests right now because the police will interpret that they have probable cause to make the arrest,” he continued, “But that doesn’t mean in the end that this will result in convictions.”
Whether social media posts are public or not, it’s hard to justify the arrest of an individual over offensive comments.
In an article for the Mises Institute, Andrew Syrios states that “when you’re popular, you don’t need freedom of speech.” He added that “resorting to the use of political force to silence adversaries is a sign of the weakness of one’s own position.”
If law enforcement leadership is serious about regaining the trust of the public, officers should act like the adults in this conversation. Resorting to force to restrain alleged enemies will only continue to hurt the reputation of US police.