Police Censorship Claims A Second Victim

I wrote about Ebony Dickens, who was arrested for posting an anti-police message on Facebook that called for an uprising. Dickens was charged under a Georgia statute related to terrorism, which is significantly more vague and subjective than other statutes involving threats, intimidation, or incitement.

It turns out that only two days after Dickens posted that message, Michael Leshawn McCullum of Iowa City was arrested for cribbing the same message on his Facebook. He was charged under for a different criminal code for posting the same message. It was harassment in the first degree.

You might think that harassment requires a victim. It does sound like the kind of crime that requires that someone, an actual living body, exist to be harassed. Yet, this isn’t the case. Harassment charges can be used without the existence of a victim – it is at the full discretion of police officers to determine if harassment has taken place or not. This means that the police could even charge someone with harassment if a victim did exist, but the victim denied that harassment took place, or if the victim did not want to file charges.

(If your favorite crime show depicts a victim who refuses to file charges, thus binding the wheels of justice, keep in mind it’s just that – a show. The police routinely compel victims to testify. Victims who refuse may even be charged with a crime themselves.)

When someone says we must end victimless crimes, it often evokes the image of recreational drug users. Prohibition is both the most salient and common example of the criminalization of consensual, victimless behavior. But there are statutes all over the place that are applied in victimless contexts, even if they don’t initially sound like it.

This has an effect on reported crime, arrest and conviction statistics. Thus it has an effect on our perceptions of crime. When a breakdown of violent versus nonviolent criminals is presented in the media, individuals like Ebony Dickens and Michael McCullum – charged with terror-related crimes or harassment – tend to be grouped in with violent offenders.

(Lesson: violence is less common than we think, but police officers depend on the myth of their own necessity due to violence.)

They are treated as violent offenders, too, when the box that indicates the crime involved violence is checked. Sentences may be longer. Special prisons, or violent housing units, may be required. Special treatment increases the likelihood of abuse in prisons, falling victim to violence by guards or inmates in wards used for violent offenders. It becomes more difficult to be paroled. Probation or parole, if granted, has additional requirements that put taxing social and economic pressures on the individual.

Drugs will eventually be legalized. Not just marijuana, but all drugs. This is already the direction Western states have begun to move, with treatment replacing possession charges in Europe, or the legalization of recreational marijuana in the United States. The drug war was lost long ago. The public has rebelled against the way even “hard drug” users are treated in the courts. Law enforcement agencies still exist, however. And they demand that prohibition exist – for their own economic benefit.

Prohibition is a business. Police officers capitalize on prohibition. Your taxes pay police salaries. But as the state fails, which is happening – when the state finds that even with taxation it cannot pay for its wars, corporate gifts, or its police state infrastructure – the welfare program called “policing” will have to be reduced. And the obviously victimless, unpopular crimes are the first to go.

It’s economic and social appeasement made by a dying state.

The people who benefit directly from obsolete forms of state employment won’t go quietly into the night. The police will not say “drugs are legal, we can go home now.” They will simply shift enforcement to other areas of life. In Colorado, where marijuana has been legalized, the police have already begun to move away from drug enforcement to drugged driving enforcement. Whereas when marijuana was illegal, drugged driving was rarely enforced – the offender typically charged with possession of a drug instead – it will be enforced with the same strictness drunk driving is. It does not even matter what the science on driving and marijuana says.

Freedom of expression is another area we can expect the police to crack down on. If you want to imagine a state where individuals can lose themselves in a drug binge, but are strictly prohibited from certain forms of speech, think Brave New World. Forms of expression are naturally prosecuted, because people hold controversial opinions. Those opinions, whatever they may be, offend those who disagree. And many who disagree have no problem using positions of power, backed up with violence, to attack those they disagree with.

That brings us back to Dickens and McCullum. I wrote earlier that Dickens may not have been wrong – what she wrote may actually be protected. (And that even if it is not, she should not be persecuted for it.) This is because it does not meet the “true threat” test. Law enforcement probably knew what Dickens said might not meet the “true threat” standard, so she was be charged under a terrorism-related law with a lower bar of evidence.

McCullum is also being charged under a law, harassment, that does not use the “true threat” standard. Even if what Dickens wrote met the criteria of a “true threat,” McCullum’s copying of the message may not have. Even if he posted the same message. This is because he merely copied what Dickens wrote and posted it on his own Facebook. It becomes unreasonable to assume McCullum has actual plans to commit violence, and that those plans just happened to be identical to those of Dickens. In short, that the “true threat” of McCullum happened to be identical to that of Dickens.

When I wrote about Ebony Dickens I said many people agree with her. Most people simply would not share those opinions on Facebook. McCullum’s arrest shows that someone else was willing to share it. Take that as you will.

The message itself was a sufficient provocation to law enforcement. It earned prosecution in two different contexts. In this the message becomes a sort of taboo, a prohibited talisman; this collection of words on paper is banned. And I don’t believe it is treated that way because it poses a threat to the lives of fifteen cops. It’s banned because it poses a threat to the legitimacy of law enforcement itself. It shows that people are at the point of supporting the use of violence to end the police.

Violence not to reform the police, but to abolish the police.

That’s a dangerous message if your livelihood depends on law enforcement. It’s a message that cannot be tolerated, unlike “moderate reform” which doesn’t negate the existence of a job for police officers. Abolition says your authority is illegitimate, but reform merely says that police overstep their own legitimate authority.

I’ll finish by saying that McCullum omitted the race war element of Dickens’s post. That was the most controversial part of the message. People call for violent uprising against law enforcement all the time. Legal or illegal ultimately depends on the whims of the police, but it isn’t an unpopular opinion.

In fact, it’s an increasingly popular opinion.

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