What the hell is going on in Massachusetts?
Nobody needs to be reminded about the Boston Marathon tragedy, and many of you heard about Cameron D’Ambrosio from Methuen, MA, who was taken into police custody in response to a Facebook post and threatened with over two decades in prison for making “criminal terroristic threats”. I’m sure many, like myself, read about his case and assumed that they would “catch and release” him and put it out of mind. After all, it’s not really that shocking for an 18-year-old high school kid who aspires to be a hip hop artist to say stupid things.
This was what he wrote:
All you haters keep my fuckin’ name outcha mouths, got it? what the fuck I gotta do to get some props and shit huh? Ya’ll wanme to fucking kill somebody? What the fuck do these fucking demons want from me? Fucking bastards I ain’t no longer a person, I’m not in reality. So when u see me fucking go insane and make the news, the paper, and the fuckin federal house of horror known as the white house, Don’t fucking cry or be worried because all YOU people fucking caused this shit. Fuck a boston bominb wait till u see the shit I do, I’ma be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!
There is an argument that the reactions of Methuen High School’s associate principal James Weymouth were reasonable when he contacted the school’s police detail. Patrolman James Mellor, who was assigned to the school, picked up Cameron around 1:30pm on May 1. He states that Cameron was “polite and cooperative during and after the arrest.”
Now, I would not be one of those to agree with this reaction by the school, but I’m not inclined to fault them for being hyper-sensitive, either. The fiasco unfolding now in the courts is another story entirely.
May 9 Cameron stood before Judge Lynn Rooney at Lawrence District Courthouse. The “honorable” Judge Rooney, who has sworn to the Oath, denied bail for Cameron and ordered him held up to 90 days, pending felony charges of “Communicating Terroristic Threats.”
“I believe the behavior here has been escalating,” she said after reviewing a half dozen records of police and probation reports prosecutors submitted at the hearing. “And it’s very troubling.”
The record included a scuffle with his sister the previous year and a fight in 2006 where “CammyDee” bit the other boy. The police did respond to the incident with his sister, and that sister had already dropped those charges prior to May 1 and is more than willing to testify on behalf of her brother. [What do a schoolyard fight seven years ago and a scuffle a year ago do to show “escalation”? – Ed.]
Cameron was denied bail, and 20 civil liberties activists from the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Center for Rights, Digital Fourth, the Defend the Fourth Coalition and the general public attended a hearing on Monday. The tech activist group Fight for the Future has mounted an online petition that already has over 90,000 signatures from people worried about the kind of precedent locking Cameron up will set. Next for Cameron, his probable cause hearing has been continued to June 25 at the District Court in Lawrence.
At issue here is the First Amendment, and the limitations thereof. The 1969 Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio set out that merely inflammatory speech could not be criminalized. To be criminal, speech has to present a prospect of “imminent lawless action”, which does not include speech that “amount[s] to nothing more than advocacy of illegal action at some indefinite future time” (Hess v. Indiana, 1973). Given how non-specific Cameron’s rap lyrics are, and that they are not directed against any named person, it’s hard to see how his words could be criminal. Geoffrey DuBosque, the defense attorney assigned to D’Ambrosio, argued in court that vague lyrics did not threaten any specific person, persons, or places, and did not meet the criteria set forth in state statute. A full search was done of his property, and apparently yielded nothing.
What precedent stands to be set if Cameron actually goes to trial for using (as he recounts) “an absolute terrible choice of words”? Should someone be charged as a terrorist for a lyric like this?
[Article originally posted at Digital Fourth; reposted to BMG with updates by permission of the author, Garret Kirkland of the Defend the Fourth Coalition. Contact Garret if you’d like to get involved in the campaign to free Cameron.]