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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: arrests, dallas, free speech, law enforcement, police, shootings, social media


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2016 @ 10:47am

    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.

Add Your Comment

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



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.