Posted: Jul 08, 2013 8:30 AM
 
A barely legal man was jailed for his sarcastic (idiotic) comments on Facebook about shooting kids in a school. Though disgustingly off-color and inappropriate, his comments don't exactly qualify as "terrorist threats."

Justin Carter is a 19-year-old [barely] man from Texas who wrote comments on Facebook that landed him in jail. Unable to pay his $500,000 bail, he's been jailed since March.

In February, when he was 18 years old, he got in a tiff with another League of Legends gamer who called him "insane" and "messed up in the head." In response, Carter wrote: "Oh yeah, I'm real messed up in the head, I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten / And watch the blood of the innocent rain down / And eat the beating heart of one of them." Evidently the next two lines were "J/K" and "LOL" (source).

Though Carter argues his comments were made sarcastically, a Canadian woman looked up Carter's address and, seeing that he lived near an elementary school, reported him to the police.

Though Carter argues his comments were made sarcastically, a Canadian woman looked up Carter's address and, seeing that he lived near an elementary school, reported him to the police. He is being charged with making "terrorist threats." This felony charge can carry up to 10 years in prison.

According to NPR, Carter's attorney, Dan Flanary, is shocked at the bail amount: "I have been practicing law for 10 years, I've represented murderers, terrorists, rapists. Anything you can think of. I have never seen a bond at $500,000."

According to the same article, Carter has been beaten numerous times in jail, facing "concussions" and "black eyes." He is now on suicide watch.

Can we jail people for being obnoxious?

Look, I get it: The kid said some seriously stupid things. Making jokes about "shooting up kindergarten" is not funny, particularly a couple of months after somebody actually did "shoot up a kindergarten." It's vile and tasteless. It's idiotic. Also, I realize Justin Carter was not actually a "kid" at all, technically. But everybody over the age of 30 knows that 18 still means kid, and quite often means idiotic and obnoxious. It certainly did in my case.

So this young "man" gets all fired up in some gamer fight (and I hear those can get pretty intense) and writes something excessively sarcastic in response to an accusation of "insanity" to make the point that he is, in fact, not insane. While I understand his words were tasteless and over-the-top, they were not, from a rhetorical perspective, out of the range of reason. He was accused of being "insane" and "messed up in the head." To counter that accusation, he cites an action that is actually insane and messed up in the head. Disgusting, insane and messed up in the head. And taken out of context, or even, in this case in context, the dude seems like a class-A, um, you decide.

Unless the police found something in his house that indicated an intention to shoot people (and everything I've read indicates they didn't), it seems to me that this whole thing is an insane overreaction.

However, as far as I can tell, the correct response to this would be something along the lines of, "Dude you're out of line. Shut up." Or "that's not funny." Or "You're an idiot." But jail with a $500,000 bail? Well, unless the police found something in his house that indicated an intention to shoot people (and everything I've read indicates they didn't), it seems to me that this whole thing is an insane overreaction.

Also, as unpleasant as this is, satire and hyperbole have been used for many, many years to expose the dark side of human nature (Jonathan Swift, anyone?). Or think about Quentin Tarantino. These guys use(d) satire and hyperbole to expose the violence and dysfunction of society. On the surface it seems like a trivialization of a very serious issue, and it is, but therein lies its power. By trivializing it, we are made to see how sick it really is. We are forced to look at what has become "commonplace" in our world.

Now obviously I am not comparing this 19-year-old gamer dude in Texas to a canonical 17th-century satirist (who incidentally, I've always hated) or a genius film director (who I've always loved). My point is this: Just because language is offensive does not mean it should be silenced. Just because something is obnoxious does not mean it should be illegal. If we start silencing speech and writing because it's "obnoxious," and "offensive," well, where do we end? Because Tarantino is both, very much both. And yet his message is important.

If we start silencing speech and writing because it's "obnoxious," and "offensive," well, where do we end?

Carter's message is not important. The guy's an idiot. However, though we find his comments unpalatable, he was actually writing something that [tastelessly] worked to make his point: "I'm not insane. People who shoot up kindergarteners are insane." It's not something I would say, and it's probably not something any mature adult would say, but it doesn't seem like a terrorist threat, given its context.

And yet, he's in jail.

Texas police state that they must "protect" children. From what? From sarcasm? From lack of taste? From an inappropriate speech act? From a jackass kid?

Do we have freedom to write and say what we want, or not?

Does the police state get to govern what we say and do to the point that sarcasm, hyperbole and exaggeration can land you in jail?

What does this mean to me as a mother?

When I see things like this I have two reactions: 1) I want to teach my kids to not act like fools online. 2) I can't believe we're spending tax money on this. On the one hand, I want to warn my kids not to say stupid things that can be perceived as threats. On the other hand, I want to raise little anarchists not afraid to say what they want. Of course, I didn't really know if that was "anarchy" at all. I thought it was one of the freedoms we enjoy in this country.

I thought that's what America was: A place to say what one wants. Though some speech acts are illegal (yelling "fire" in a crowded room), I'm not sure what it means when a [barely] man is put in jail for saying something out of line and foolish, particularly when it (sort of, though I hate to admit it), made sense in the context of his communication (I mean, if you're vile).

All I know is this: My kids will learn of the freedoms that are the cornerstone of this country, so at the very least, when they see things like this, they'll question.

All I know is this: My kids will learn of the freedoms that are the cornerstone of this country, so at the very least, when they see things like this, they'll question them.

This is America, where it's (clearly) always been legal to be an idiot. I mean if they're going to start jailing idiots, I have a whole list of people I'd like to "turn in."

First on my list: Westboro Baptist Church.

And after that, the dude who said the female body has a way of "shutting down" pregnancy after rape.

I mean talk about violent speech acts...

More on civil rights

Who's Nelson Mandela?
Hey Paula Deen, slaves were not your "family"
Boy Scouts and bigotry

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