Police Step Up Arrests For 'Threatening' Social Media Posts In The Wake Of The Dallas Shooting

from the civil-liberties-v.-kneejerking dept

In a move that’s sure to only increase the nation’s respect for law enforcement, police departments have been arresting people for “threatening” social media posts. This activity follows the tragedy in Dallas, where five police officers were killed by a man armed with a rifle. Naomi LaChance of The Intercept has more details.

Four men in Detroit were arrested over the past week for posts on social media that the police chief called threatening. One tweet that led to an arrest said that Micah Johnson, the man who shot police officers in Dallas last week, was a hero. None of the men have been named, nor have they been charged.

Four more arrests have occurred elsewhere:

Last weekend in Connecticut, police arrested Kurt Vanzuuk after a tip for posts on Facebook that identified Johnson as a hero and called for police to be killed. He was charged with inciting injury to persons or property.

An Illinois woman, Jenesis Reynolds, was arrested for writing in a Facebook post that she would shoot an officer who would pull her over. “I have no problem shooting a cop for simple traffic stop cuz they’d have no problem doing it to me,” she wrote, according to the police investigation. She was charged with disorderly conduct.

In New Jersey, Rolando Medina was arrested and charged with cyber harassment. He allegedly posted on an unidentified form of social media that he would destroy local police headquarters. In Louisiana, Kemonte Gilmore was arrested for an online video where he allegedly threatened a police officer. He was charged with public intimidation.

Arresting people for speech is problematic, especially when the content of the communications doesn’t rise to the level of a “true threat.” The Supreme Court’s Elonis decision says this distinction is important. It’s not enough for a person or persons to subjectively view the communication as threatening. It needs to be viewed through the “reasonable person” lens.

In these cases, perception appears to be everything. In the wake of the Dallas shooting, it’s entirely normal for police officers to view the world a little differently. But this altered view — one that’s likely to be less skewed as time goes on — can’t be allowed to override the First Amendment and deprive individuals of their freedom to speak, not to mention their actual freedom.

And just as certainly as law enforcement officers and officials are likely to view certain acts of blowhardiness as threatening in the immediate aftermath of a shooting targeting police officers, certain citizens are likely to vent their frustration and anger in particularly stupid ways, but without the intention or ability to carry out the perceived threat. Caution should be exercised on both sides of the interaction. However, those with the power to arrest, detain, and charge citizens for stupidity should be the more cautious of the two parties — simply because they still hold the power, despite recent events.

Those in power should also take care to carry this out with some sort of consistency, if that’s the route they’re choosing to take. It can’t just be deployed against a bunch of nobodies who mouthed off about their contempt for law enforcement. If this is how it’s going to be handled, those who speak with the same rhetoric in defense of law enforcement need to be held accountable. Former congressional rep Joe Walsh tweeted out that this was now “war on Obama” after the Dallas shootings and yet no one showed up at his door to arrest him for threatening the President. It’s bad enough that power is being misused to silence criticism of law enforcement violence. It’s even worse when this power is deployed in a hypocritical fashion.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Police Step Up Arrests For 'Threatening' Social Media Posts In The Wake Of The Dallas Shooting”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

that’s okay, cause the po po got to squeeze off a round… and who is the dead sukka now?

I hate the BLM and most Police. The police have long fomented unrest in the Citizens by abusing their authority with little to zero backlash from what is largely and approving court and political power structure.

For all of Obama’s bluster, he has does pretty much nothing for his people to stop this. Like every other problem, he runs his mouth, the only time he does take action is when liberty is being removed, or he can mass import America haters.

Anonymous Coward says:

It should never have come to this

But: try to find one active-duty cop who will condemn another for a shooting, ANY shooting, of ANYONE — no matter how egregious, no matter how much video evidence, no matter how unprovoked, no matter ANYTHING.

There are no good cops until and unless they call out bad cops. Their responsibility to society, as public servants, must overrule their loyalty to their fellow officers.

Until that happens, and happens on a large scale, this is only going to get worse.

Joe K says:

Re: It should never have come to this

Anonymous Coward:

But: try to find one active-duty cop who will condemn another for a shooting, ANY shooting, of ANYONE — no matter how egregious, no matter how much video evidence, no matter how unprovoked, no matter ANYTHING.

There are no good cops until and unless they call out bad cops. Their responsibility to society, as public servants, must overrule their loyalty to their fellow officers.

Until that happens, and happens on a large scale, this is only going to get worse.

I don’t, myself, know a lot of cops, so I won’t attempt to confirm or dispute your perception.

But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose your perception does reflect reality. Doesn’t that imply that these abuses are institutionalized behavior? Doesn’t power in a police department flow top-down?

Shouldn’t we hold those with relatively more power to change things within that hierarchy more responsible than the foot-soldiers who merely execute policies crafted by their superiors (and, presumably, will be punished for failing to do so)?

I’m not saying give the grunts, the good Germans, a pass. Far from it.

But at the same time, let’s not ignore those who wield more power: The more generalised a particular behavior is, among a top-down institution’s members, the more that institution’s authorities are responsible for it.

An article by one Ken Lawrence was published in 1985 (the text of which can be found online here, at archive.org), called The New State Repression.

It contains discussion of a text, apparently prepared for a course administered circa 1974 by Louis Giuffrida’s CSTI (California Specialized Training Institute), titled “Civilian Violence and Terrorism: Officer Survival and Internal Security”.

Lawrence’s article contains ostensible quotes from the CSTI text that are relevant here. Here is one such excerpt:

Most students of revolution would agree that “peaceful dissent” is the first step toward revolution and that this new trend signals the opening phases of the “new revolution.”

These issues, be they social, cultural, political, or economic, snowball and often appear to the casual observer as being full of truth and at least justified.

In short–it is fashionable to direct sneers, threats, and even open hostility toward the policeman. He is, symbolically at least, everything that is wrong with society.

When the necessary respect and reverence are destroyed, violence, as we know it, will be heroism.

Regarding that “necessary respect and reverence”:

  1. There is a cost to passing unenforceable laws. There is a cost to institutionalizing the selective enforcement of those same laws. Sanctioning highway robbery, and calling it asset forfeiture, has a cost.
  2. There is a cost to making the application of deadly force, and threats of the same, so defining a characteristic of police work that a cop without a gun becomes as inconceivable as Santa Claus without a big sack of presents.
  3. There is a cost to permitting, if not indeed outright encouraging, cadres of white supremacists to serve in the police force.
  4. There is a cost to building enormous concentration camps (a.k.a. prisons) and telling police, prosecutors, and judges that their job is to fill them, by hook or by crook, with the lumpenproletariat, while at the same time enacting economic policies that ensure the growth of that very underclass.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: It should never have come to this

Every cop, from the rookie beat patrolman to the chief of police, is equally responsible for calling out bad behavior. Nobody gets a pass. Nobody is excused from their responsibility.

After all, they’re certainly there when a cop does something good/honest/useful/heroic. There’s never a shortage of cops to hail this sort of thing, nor should there be.

But the cops who will stand and applaud when a fellow officer gets an award for valor should be the same people who — just as loudly — condemn when a cop shoots an unarmed civilian, running away, in the back.

Now — as an exercise for the reader — try to find a Baltimore cop who will criticize the six officers who killed Freddie Gray. We can argue all day about whether or not charges should have been brought (and which ones) and whether or not prosecution has been handled well and all that: but in the end, a healthy guy got turned into a dead guy after an encounter with six officers. Yet there hasn’t even been a mild criticism of their actions from their fellow cops. Nothing. Instead every effort has been made to blame the victim for his own death — quite convenient, since he isn’t around to dispute that with his side of the story.

This story is repeated in Ferguson and Baton Rouge, New York City and Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Charleston. Police will not call out their own. They stonewall, they conceal, they obfuscate, they deflect, they exaggerate, and yes, they lie — rather than do the right thing for the people they’re supposed to protect and serve.

The only difference today is that we often get compelling video evidence that they’re doing it. It’s not new. They were doing all this stuff last year and in 2006 and 1986 and 1966 and…

And now the people have had enough. Which is why things like this happen and sadly, tragically, will continue to happen.

J Smith says:

Unmentioned serious problem

If the police are going around arresting people based on online postings, how sure are they that the person arrested is actually the one that posted it? My guess is right now, they are not sure, and they definitely do not care. But consider: I don’t own the Facebook profile Bill Smith, nor William Smith, nor Willy Smith, but if any of those people offend the cops and do a halfway decent job of impersonating me (and I suspect it wouldn’t take much), the cops will come harass and/or arrest me for some idiot mouthing off in my name.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Unmentioned serious problem

Indeed, but this is arguably worse than SWATting. At least a SWATting can reasonably be argued to be illegal for the troublemaker (false police report). Impersonating someone on social media might be actionable, but it’d probably require demonstrating that they reasonably expected their impersonation to lead to improper police action. Further, in an actual SWATting, once the cops drag everyone out in handcuffs and search the property, they’ll probably figure out they were hoaxed. With one of these, how do you convince the cops you are being truthful when you say “It wasn’t me!”?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Unmentioned serious problem

Na, bro. If I wanted to harass you, I wouldn’t be using such low probability methods as a Facebook posting with not-true-threat incendiary comments. I’d just SWAT ya. Or dox you on some anti-abortion site.

Heck, find your address, create a fake female profile for you, and “dox” you to the GamerGate crowd. I mean, why harass someone yourself, when you can get patsies to do it for you?

Whatever says:

Good news for a change

It was only a matter of time. Since you cannot say for sure that these men wouldn’t carry out their threats it’s only fair to take them as seriously as possible, more so since they targeted policemen. Ah, but this is Techdirt, where they believe the only good cop is a dead cop, so it’s not surprising to see you pirates and criminals so alarmed. Since you wouldn’t mention the five policemen killed by criminals in your article some time ago you had this coming for a long while. And I’ll be watching you lowlife scramble while I laugh my head off.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The more that Law Enforcement cracks down on civilians being angry...

…the more angry they’re going to be.

The more popcorn will pop.

Our law enforcement agent really really need more de-escalation training. C’mon guys you are hired specifically to be reasonable and rational in the face of chaos. If you can’t do that, you need to not be an officer.

And if entire precincts and agencies can’t do that they need to be disbanded in favor of agencies who can.

Anonymous Coward says:

The one thing that I kept telling everyone was that I knew this was going to happen. But, everyone dismissed is as nothing more than rants. While most police officers are respectful of the public they serve, there are a small group of officers who carry things too far.

Now, cops are being targeted. It’s not just ramblings on social media but I’ve also seen gamers celebrating the shootings of police officers in MMO games like Star Trek Online.

Police officers are now becoming the target of citizens, and if you ask me, I absolutely believe that anyone who posts a threat online should be arrested because there is no reason for someone to post threats online.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“While most police officers are respectful of the public they serve, there are a small group of officers who carry things too far.”

Any cop who fails to denounce (or worse, actively defends) abusive cops are betraying their public duty and allying with the “small group” even if their conduct is otherwise unassailable.

This is why I think it’s deceptive to say it’s just a “small group” of bad cops. It appears to be the majority — the difference is only in degree.

Anonymous Coward says:

WRONG! I don’t agree with homosexuality but you don’t see me running down the streets calling homosexuals “perverts”. While I don’t agree with their lifestyle, I also believe that they deserve the same rights as the rest of our citizens.

Police officers have the right not to denounce such actions because those officers that do can receive abuse at the hands of their fellow officers. I’d rather have those good cops discharging their duty as police officers and not have them following in the footsteps of those bad cops.


Anonymous Coward says:

Well!… the first report citing one guy as suggesting Micah Johnson was a hero, was neither a direct, or indirect threat! STUPID!… YES!… but not threatening! However!… the other reports would indicate a threat!
To sum up… thank goodness for the advent of AI to the Netizone!… wherewith, the parsing of dialogue through Expert Systems, coupled with properly trained Cyber Analysts and Policing Authorities, will make “definitive judgement calls” on the Comments being offered up on the Net, less “problematic”! Guessing at the nature of netizens’ communications, is not helping keep the Net secure!… and it’s not making the role of Policing any easier!… nor publicly acceptable!
Please!… no emails!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...