A 16-year-old student in Connecticut was recently arrested under a 100-year-old law intended for advertisements because he used a racial slur and made racist comments on Snapchat, while a college student in Michigan is facing terror charges for a Snapchat post about “snowflakes,” highlighting the battle over free speech in America.
Many teenagers say stupid, even terribly offensive, things. In the past, such words would result in punishment from school officials or parents. In today’s hypersensitive environment, it’s increasingly the law that’s being called in to deal with those who use racial slurs and immature humor.
Take for example the case of the 16-year-old Connecticut student in Connecticut. The student posted a picture of his black classmate on Snapchat and said, “Why is there a [n-word] in my homeroom? Why is he not in chains?”
What would possess a person to say such a bigoted and stupid statement, particularly in a time where sensitivity to such inappropriate statements is at an all-time high is beyond our ability to ascertain? Suffice it to say, whether the student is a racist or just acting without thinking or even making a stupid joke, his comment was reprehensible. We could likely all agree the student deserves some sort of punishment, perhaps to choose his own switch when he got home. A whipping from his parents was the least of the student’s concerns, however.
The student was arrested the very day he made the comment. He is being prosecuted under a law that applies to advertisements intended to prevent people from being ridiculed based on protected classes. The law allows for 30 days in jail, but the NAACP doesn’t think that penalty is harsh enough.
Stanley Lord of the Greater Bridgeport chapter of the NAACP insisted, “A message needs to be sent to this individual,” advocating that it be a “deterrent” to other students. He told Just The News that being expelled is a “badge of honor” to students and is upset that the case will proceed in juvenile court. Lord added, “At least this [arrest] will carry with him for a while.”
Meanwhile in Michigan, Lake Superior State University student Lucas Gerhard is under house arrest and facing terrorism charges for sending a Snapchat message to his friends that ridiculed “snowflakes.”
Gerhard sent a picture of the AR-15 with the caption, “Takin this bad boy up. This outta make the snowflakes melt, aye? And I mean snowflakes as in snow.” A student that Gerhard had blocked on Snapchat due to her frequent arguments with him over political differences was shown the message and reported Gerhard.
No faculty saw Gerhard, an Eagle scout, as a threat, and he had reported his weapon to the college as required, yet he was removed from class by police officers because the other student felt threatened. Gerhard was given a $250,000 bond and could face a 20-year prison sentence.
Legal scholar and free speech advocate Jonathan Turley said that it “was clearly a simple taunting message.” He added,
“I fail to see the basis for the criminal charge or how any prosecutor could have signed off on the charges….The greatest problem however is a complete breakdown of discretionary authority by police and prosecutors. Everyone seems to have failed at every stage in recognizing that this was not a criminal case. Notably, it does not appear that the school itself concluded that Gerhard was a threat. More importantly, nothing in the posting clearly states a threat.”
These cases are truly chilling. In the Connecticut case, no one disputes that what the student said was racist and appalling, but he did not actually physically harm anyone. Words do not cause physical harm and the First Amendment protects free speech, even speech we hate.
The idea that the NAACP’s Lord is upset that the 16-year-old will be tried in juvenile court is disturbing. Lord wants vengeance on a teenager for a stupid message he sent. This is not a murder case. There is no reason he should be tried as an adult. In fact, there is no reason he should be tried at all. Criminalizing the use of racial slurs by certain people won’t combat racism, just chill free speech.
In the case of Gerhard, it was somewhat unwise to send a such a message, but it is fairly obvious he meant that the gun would upset “snowflakes.” His meaning was that some liberals would be angered by his having an AR-15. There is nothing wrong with poking fun at political opponents. Those on the left and the right attempt to taunt and ridicule their opposition all the time — Saturday Night Live and late night talk hosts have made an entire cottage industry of it.
No one thought Gerhard was a threat except for one student who had a history of inciting political arguments with him. One could argue that this is a false accusation based on political animus and it is she who should be in trouble. It is a gross miscarriage of justice that a young man with no criminal record should have his life ruined because of a harmless Snapchat message.
These cases show that censorship is growing and many on the left seek to criminalize speech, not because it is actually harmful, but because they want to chill speech and curb dissent. We must fight for free speech, even speech we don’t like.
At the same time, we must be careful about what statements and opinions we post on social media — and we must teach our children to do the same — because those statements and opinions can be easily twisted and used against us to get us fired, expelled, or even jailed.
Too many Americans who have grown up and lived as a free people haven’t caught on to the fact that we now live in a society run by scolds and informers who don’t actually believe in the right to free speech and who conflate bad jokes, offensive language, and wrong opinions with violence.
In April, it was revealed that the Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, is now actively monitoring Americans’ social media posts for “inflammatory content” and sharing it with other federal agencies. In other words, the American government is spying on its own citizens.
Free speech is under very real attack, and if Americans don’t start pushing back, we could soon lose it altogether.