I have been covering the case of Justin Carter, the 19-year-old Texan who spent 4 and ½ months in jail as a result of a comment he made during a Facebook argument about a League of Legends match. According to csmonitor.com, Justin allegedly stated:
“I’m [expletive] in the head alright. I’ma shoot up a kindergarten/ And watch the blood of the innocent rain down/ And eat the beating heart of one of them.”
He was charged with making a terroristic threat as a result. I was very excited by the amount of healthy debate that surrounded my articles as the MWEB readership posted their views on the topic. The discussion made me question the reasons behind my feelings towards Justin’s imprisonment.
One reader in particular stated that I was stating a summary of the situation from my own biased perspective. I feel that I should be accountable to the folk that are kind enough to read the things I write; and for this reason I think that I need to elaborate on as to why I find the charges against Justin Carter to be ludicrous.
I will be the first to admit that I could not approach my analysis of the case from a neutral angle. Why?
Because I will always be against a justice system that will imprison someone who has not physically committed a crime; someone who has not been proven to have the intent to commit a crime - on the basis of a single statement.
Because I will always be for the right to free speech - even though this right enables people to say things that we find abhorrent or disagree with.
I do not condone Justin’s behaviour in the slightest, because what he said was completely tactless, considering the genuine tragedy resulting from the numerous school shooting incidents that have been recorded in the United States; and especially considering the fact that he made this statement in the wake of the shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, where 20 children aged between 6 and 7 were killed.
However, there are several issues that I have relating to the case. The first is the lack of context. We are constantly made aware of what Justin allegedly said, but we have never been shown the comment that he was responding to. At face value, his statement could appear threatening to some, but those people would be disregarding the fact that he followed the sentence with “LOL” and “JK”, indicating that he was in fact joking; albeit in an unfeeling manner. There has been little application of critical analysis towards the situation and, to me, one sided stories lack value and in all honesty, are especially worrying when they are made on the part of a country’s government.
Secondly, I find it somewhat of an overreaction that Carter faces up to 8 years in jail. He was released from prison on $500 000 bail. Does it not appear that events have been blown out of proportion considering that he hadn’t actually done anything?
In the course of my research into the happenings surrounding Justin Carter, I discovered that although his case seems to have gained a larger amount of publicity, there is in fact another teenager who has been jailed under the same circumstances. According to dailycaller.com Josh Pillault, a 19-year-old from Mississippi, was playing Runescape, an online multiplayer fantasy game, when
Another player began antagonizing him, and eventually told him to kill himself.
Irritated, Pillault said he would kill not just himself, but also take out the local high school. He also mentioned Columbine — the name of an infamous school shooting — according to reports.
The troll’s last words to Josh were “knock, knock” – referencing the Federal Agents he would send to Josh’s house to arrest him. A few days later, the Pillault household was attacked by a SWAT team composed of agents from the FBI and ATF. The agents did not find any weapons, nor did they identify any reason that Josh would have to hurt others, but nevertheless he was taken into custody.
According to nationalreview.com
“Authorities asked Josh “if he wanted an attorney.” Josh, unfamiliar with legal procedure, asked if he needed one. “Not if you want to get out faster,” was the reply. So Josh spoke to them without a lawyer. He was charged with making threats in interstate and foreign commerce, and with threatening property damage and was denied bail, with no bond.”
These events occurred in October of last year and Josh has been in jail for more than 9 months. He celebrated his 20th birthday behind prison bars.
Dailycaller.com states that
“Josh was adamant about maintaining his innocence, but the family eventually decided that the odds of a conviction were simply too high. On June 20, Josh plead guilty, hoping for a lighter sentence. He is now awaiting transfer to a federal prison, where medical experts will evaluate his mental condition. Sentencing should take place a few months from now. Josh could get 10 years in prison, and a fine of $250,000.”
As with everything, there are two sides to these stories. On the one hand, I can understand why the American authorities reacted in such a swift manner; because if they failed to such statements seriously and the loss of human life occurred as a result; that would be an unbelievably and immensely sad event, even more so because it could have theoretically been prevented (Donald Flanary, Justin's attorney speculates that"one reason Carter has been jailed is that “no individual agency wants to be the one that says, ‘It’s not a threat, let it go,’ because then if something happens … they have to explain why they didn’t do more.”). In fact, a high school bombing in Utah was successfully prevented by a student reporting a suspicious text message he received from another student prior to the actual event.
On the other hand, when law enforcement agencies do not find any weapons or evidence of a plot to kill or harm others, surely it is excessive and a denial of rights to imprison these people?
I think that what is important here is intent. It’s one thing to incarcerate someone on the basis of a statement when this threatening statement is found to have a basis in truth; but is unacceptable when this cannot be found to be so.
I do not deny that statements like those made on the part of Justin Carter and Josh Pillault should be without repercussion, but I feel that this punishment should come in the form of community service or house arrest. It’s not fair and is in actual fact, not right that these young men, who have the potential to become contributing members of society should have to spend many years of their lives in the system, where they will be exposed to violence , sexual abuse and live among career criminals who have chosen such a path for their life. These young men will, like so many others before them, leave prison hardened and angry men who, ironically, will more than likely have a inclination towards violent behaviour.
I also feel that there should be some sort of repercussion for those who were involved in the argument – for example, in the case of Josh Pillault, the flamer that incited his response and called the FBI in a clear-cut case of revenge. It’s unfortunate that Josh has pled guilty, because if he had been proven innocent; the troll should have been punished in some way for wasting police time.
These stories tell of lost innocence and should be taken to heart. We should question the actions of a government that keeps it’s people living in fear of violent events and who leaves those who have not yet been proven guilty with no way out but to accept the charges against them. Yes, we should all start to behave better in our online interactions, but these reactions are excessive:
It’s the internet, people say stupid things sometimes.
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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd