I'm a registered Republican. I was born and raised in "red" states. I was in the military for a decade. I mostly think that the American Civil Liberties Union is an organization filled with people who need a haircut and a "real job." I'm a corporate attorney, for goodness' sake. I'm not constantly on the lookout for the Thought Police, and I don't think we're a nation on the brink. I have spent the last week reading editorials and op-eds about our overreaction to the Virginia Tech shootings. (Note: I did not call it the "Virginia Tech Massacre" â€“ we're about 10 years of genocide short of that designation; look up "Darfur" on the Wikipedia if you're still confused) I have been sending these editorials to friends â€“ who are busy forwarding on tribute chain e-mails and posting "Remember VT" bulletins on MySpace.
We are not a nation of victims. We should not license or enable oversensitivity and overreaction. Things are not worse than they've ever been, we've just gotten more media access, and the media has gotten more sensational as a function of it's competitive nature. And why, pray tell, have I shared all of this personal information with you? Because I want to get a simple point across: I don't "cry wolf" when it comes to the violation of our rights as citizens. What's more, even after three years of very expensive and, at least externally considered "important", law school, I still think the "slippery slope" is an often overused logic. But, there are moments where small events which unwittingly become public are indicia of a larger problem that is nearly upon us, much like the first few snowballs that tumble past, barely preceding an avalanche. And that, dear reader, is what I think I may have happened upon.
The Associated Press (by way of CNN.com) reported today that in Cary, Illinois - A high school senior was arrested on disorderly conduct charges over a creative-writing assignment for an essay that was "disturbing and inappropriate." Okay, take a moment to digest that. First, for the uninitiated, Cary is a northern suburb of Chicago â€“ hardly Nowhere, Mississippi. Second, we're not talking a suspension or even expulsion from school. No, we're talking about an arrest â€“ handcuffs â€“ and the possibility of thirty days in jail. And let's be clear, this is about something this kid WROTE. So, you're probably thinking, well, maybe it was racially hateful and he read it in class; perhaps he was trying to incite a riot. Chicago has had it share of racially divisive conflicts. Oh no, like many other young men at seventeen, he was just being stupid â€“ testing the boundaries, being annoyingâ€¦ being a teenager. The quote they gave as the most sensational of the offending language was:
"Blood, sex and booze. Drugs, drugs, drugs are fun. Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, s...t...a...b...puke. So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P90s and started shooting everyone, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did."
Now that's stupid. Sâ€¦tâ€¦uâ€¦pâ€¦iâ€¦dâ€¦ and I would venture to say that I have less patience for teenage boys than most, but seriously folks, he's been ARRESTED for writing this. We've officially lost out minds as a nation if this is 'ok'. Remember, he wasn't publishing this in a school paper (although in related story a high school teacher in Indiana was transferred to a different school for allowing a piece in a school paper about the TOLERANCE of homosexuals â€¦ alas, a story for a different time), and not pasting it on a wall for others to read. No, he simply turned it in as a creative writing piece. After one very difficult semester of studying First Amendment law, I can tell you, there's just absolutely no way that what this young man did is NOT protected speech. Where's the ACLU when you need them? Hey, strap on your Birkenstocks and go help this kid!
Now, I can imagine that it might be ok for a teacher to call a student's parents if he or she turned in something like this. I say "I can imagine" because I still think that's pretty ridiculous. This kid is a high school senior â€“ and likely a legal 'adult' or soon to be one, but, hey, at least it's short of the 'perp walk' out of the front doors of your school. I can even imagine where a student could 'say' something awful enough to warrant disciplinary action: racial epithets, 'fire' in a crowded theater, cursing at a teacher, etc. But what is the standard for writing something on a 'creative writing' assignment that involves turning a student over the authorities? A bomb threat? Even then. What sort of real threat comes in as a 'creative writing' assignment? Don't the homicidal types keep this sort of 'manifesto' in a spiral notebook in their rooms?
I know that it's popular to try and first derive meaning from tragedies and then try to take measures to prevent them. But sometimes random acts of violence are just that â€“ and the only way to truly prevent them is to avoid allowing us to live freely at all. We've become a nation sending our children out to play in so much protective gear that they can hardly move and enjoy themselves. Do the folks in Cary believe they can identify the next Seung-Hui Cho or Trenchcoat Mafia by scrutinizing essays? Do we? If you've convinced yourself of that, you should probably just lock yourself inside, tune into some 24 hour news and start building your panic room. For the rest of us it's time for a little "chest up and chin out" â€“ and in the immortal words of Dee Snyder â€“ "we're not gonna take itâ€¦ anymore." If we don't stand up for our rights, and the rights of our children to express ourselves in a classroom or other public form, without fear of arrest when our speech is unpopular or simply ill-considered, we soon won't have them - all in the name of "safety."
And for those of you who learn nothing else from this, remember, if you're going to write something exceptionally stupid, for God's sake, donâ€™t hand it in to your English teacher, do what the rest of us do...
...and publish it on the internet.
WORLD - AN EDGE IN MY VOICE
Copyright © 2010 Glenn T
Illinois Penal Code Section 17.2 - Creative Writing
Copyright © 2010 Glenn T
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