Oh Look, Police Can Investigate A Satirical Online Comment About Mythical Violence And Not Overreact

from the if-only-others-did-so-as-well dept

We’ve recently covered two separate stories of guys who made (perhaps in poor taste) jokes online about a violent activity they were considering (one a joke about blowing up an airport, and another taking a line from Fight Club and applying it to an Apple Store). In both cases (one in the UK and one in the US), police came to investigate. I have no problem with that part of it. If someone legitimately feels threatened, it’s good that the police will go investigate. The problem was that even after they realized that the person was just making an offhand joking statement online, they still pressed charges. The guy in the US eventually got off, but the guy in the UK did not and is still appealing his case higher.

However, it’s nice to know that sometimes the police recognize a silly online comment for being a silly online comment. Romenesko points us to a recent story of a blogger who writes (somewhat satirically) about the giant NYC apartment complex Stuy Town, who recently had a post entitled Tenant to Children: STFU, complaining about kids making a lot of noise early on Saturday morning, and telling parents to keep their kids quiet however possible. It also illustrated the post with “a crying child in a rifle scope’s crosshairs,” — an image that was changed after people complained. Either way, all of this got some residents to call the police, worried that someone was “targeting” their children, and so the police actually stopped by the blogger’s apartment to make sure he wasn’t really planning to shoot children:

Detectives from the 13th Precinct stopped by today to check on my lucidity and be sure there were no guns in my apartment after some tenants complained that I was inciting violence by posting an email sent to me for the “Tenant to Children: STFU!” post. They were really nice and understood the Lux Living post in question was satire but they had a job to do. After a tour of my apartment and some light conversation about my art collection and antique furniture it was clear to them that I am just a writer with a dark sense of humor and not a threat to society.

While one assumes that this should be the standard way that police respond to such complaints, just the fact that we’ve seen a few stories that went in the other direction made me realize we might as well highlight when things go the right way also.

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Comments on “Oh Look, Police Can Investigate A Satirical Online Comment About Mythical Violence And Not Overreact”

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Laurel L. Russwurm (profile) says:

We have the opposite problem

My problem goes the other way… in Canada we are stuck with Political Science Professor Tom Flanagan, a man who was a mentor/campaign manager/chief of staff to the current Prime Minister of Canada. In his role of regular “star commentator” on a news magazine show on the CBC television network, Flanagan called upon your President to assassinate WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.

If you watch the clip, it is pretty clear he didn’t understand that this wasn’t appropriate:

Flanagan clearly broke the law in counseling a felony, and followed it up with a threatening email to a woman who complained about it. Although most Canadians are appalled neither the RCMP (our federal police) or local police forces will even bring charges against this man.

Even worse, although the school community is up in arms, the University of Calgary won’t even discipline Flanagan, let alone fire him.

Please sign the petition asking for: Dr. Tom Flanagan?s immediate expulsion from the University of Calgary.

ttterk (profile) says:

"they" still pressed charges

“They” referred to here isn’t usually the police. The police pass the results of their investigation on to the District Attorney’s office, and “they” decide, on the basis of the investigation, whose ox has been gored, who’s annoyed/scared by the bad joke, and the general political atmosphere, whether or not to file charges and which charges to file.

Cops arrest, prosecutors prosecute.*

*at least in the U.S. I can only assume there’s a similar separation in Canada & the UK, and I could be wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is the definition of a grumpy old man

Children get up at a reasonable time on Saturday, wash, get dressed and eat breakfast, then go out to play.

Grumpy old man, who wakes up at 4pm, gets pissed that kids have fun so threatens to shoot them dead.

Parents call police about grumpy old man; police investigate and report back he’s just a harmless arsehole and not to worry about unless he offers your kid sweets.

takeaswag says:

it's all about the liability

I have a few cop friends and they are as upset about having to arrest people who were joking or otherwise did not mean for what they said to be taken literally. The reason they do it anyway is because of the liability. In this case, let’s just pretend that this grumpy old man went out and bought an automatic weapon and mowed down a half dozen kids in the playground one saturday morning. Now the pareents are going to sue the officer that didn’t do anyting about it, the department, the city, the DA and anybody else that was aware of it and did not take immediate preventative action. Meanwhile, if these cops had locked this guy up, then the liability falls to the DA who is forced to charge him with something, again, for the liability. Now when it goes to court the Judge is even concerned that if he does not follow the letter of the law then he or she would be liable. This is how someone that says “I’m gonna shoot you” to someone else, without really meaning it literally, ends up in jail for five to ten for terrorist threats. So, what do we all learn from this? well first off, don’t say stupid things that you do not mean, and second, think twice before calling the police about someone who said something they did not mean. As far as the free speech aspect of this goes, well, consider the person who yells fire in the crowded theatre when there is not one, and all of the deaths that occur due to the panic during the evacuation.

A wise man once told me “keep your words soft and sweet, because someday you may hae to eat them.”

Greg G says:

This is the definition of a grumpy old man

You’ve obviously never had to work nights if you think it’s just grumpy old men waking up at 4pm that are bitching about noisy kids in the afternoon.

I’ve lived where children are outside at 7 or 8am on Saturday, I worked nights (getting home at about 0615 or so). I was in my early 20’s at the time, so don’t even start with the “grumpy old man” bit.

It’s nearly impossible to get your sleep when you have loud children outside your apartment at those early hours. If it was 4pm, I wouldn’t have said anything, I’d already be awake after getting my 6-9 hours of sleep.


Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Recognizing a joke

While I basically agree, I worry even more about giving the police (or attorneys, or any special interest group) too much power.

I like the idea of the police deciding to clear it through a judge, just to be sure everyone is treated equally. It wasn’t too long ago that “if he’s white, it was a joke, if black, nail him!” was the vogue.

True, judges were also involved, but those things can be appealed in a court. Appealing in other situations doesn’t work.

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