Police

Policing Online "Hate Speech" Against Police Following the Dallas Massacre

Several arrests made for alleged online threats against police; Detroit detective demoted for anti-BLM Facebook post.

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Dallas PD vigil
ERIK S. LESSER/EPA/Newscom

Tensions are high, people are angry, many are looking for someone to blame, and some of them are lashing out on social media with statements that have been variously described as "hate speech" or "criminal threats."

In a week where America's racial tensions were exceptionally exposed following the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the massacre of Dallas police officers perpetrated by Micah Xavier Johnson, the line between a legal (if ill-advised) expression of anger and genuine threats of violence was repeatedly blurred. The question of whether or not police are a group entitled to "hate crime law" protections was also repeatedly raised. Indeed, President Obama himself reportedly described the killings in Dallas as a "hate crime" in a meeting with several police association officials

Last Saturday, Norwalk (Conn.) police arrested Kurt Vanzuuk, a 34-year-old white man for allegedly describing Johnson as a hero and calling for the killing of more police officers in a Facebook post. Vanzuuk's Facebook page appears to be disabled or deleted, and thus far police have not released any direct quotes from the post which led compelled them to arrest Vanzuuk.

In Racine (Wi.), Byron L. Cowan, a 43-year-old black man, was arrested by local authorities and the FBI for allegedly writing "This is war," calling for all black Americans to arm themselves and telling white police officers "to kiss there (sic) loved ones goodbye," according to The Journal Times. Cowan was charged with solicitation of threat against a law enforcement officer as a hate crime, terrorist threats as a hate crime, and disorderly conduct. In asking the court for Cowan to be held on $75,000 bond, Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete was quoted by the Journal Times as saying, "each and every one of these threats needs to be treated as a serious, real and credible threat." Cowan's lawyer Anthony Jackson countered, "we view these threats as not credible, and they were really made more so in the heat of the moment."

Four men were arrested in Detroit over the weekend for allegedly making online threats against police, per The Detroit News:

One of the Detroit men reportedly posted on Facebook that Johnson was a "hero" for killing the Dallas officers, and added: "He inspired me to do the exact same thing."

Police said another man posted: "It's time to wage­ war and shoot the police first." The man told people to contact him to organize the effort to shoot officers.

The fourth suspect posted pictures and videos of officers being shot on his Facebook wall and wrote: "This needs to happen more often," according to police.

Police are not immune from the consequences of their own online outbursts, as Detroit detective Nate Weekley was reportedly demoted to police officer after writing in a Facebook post that "The only racists here are the piece of [expletive] black Lives Matter terrorists and their supporters," according to Detroit's Fox2.

Clearly, calling for police or anyone else to be killed could be seen as an incitement to violence, which is not protected by the First Amendment. What gets tricky (which regular Reason readers and commenters know all too well) is determining whether or not these online outbursts are "true threats" or merely crude rants all too typical of online discourse. 

Furthermore, calling Johnson a "hero" may be truly stupid, outrageous, and offensive, but it's hard to argue that such a statement automatically rises to a "true threat," nor would it be possible to arrest and prosecute every single person who takes to social media and calls him one.

But this is why "hate speech" laws are the very definition of a slippery slope. If a person's profession can be afforded extra protection under the law the same way race, religion, and sexual orientation can, and if the expression of unpopular ideas becomes prosecutable, we should expect to see more arrests based on social media rants, none of which are likely to change anyone's minds or bridge the divide between the police and the portion of the public that views law enforcement with such profound distrust.

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  1. Look, Obama wanted a “National Discussion on Race”. Well, here ya’ go.

      1. Indeed we are not, entirely, a nation of cowards, thanks to the courage of the prosecutors and judges in New York who have made it clear that “crude rants all too typical of online discourse” are NOT, when they cross the line, entitled to “constitutional protection.” See the documentation of America’s leading criminal satire case at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        On the other hand, the “dissenting” judge in that case, as well as the three separate courts that have held Texas’ online impersonation statute unconstitutional over the past two years, should be severely reprimanded, perhaps even removed from the bench, because they risk causing public confusion with their inappropriate “First Amendment” arguments that so directly contradict the fundamental New York court ruling on this matter. Reason editors should rapidly endorse the efforts of Texas prosecutors to get those decisions overturned. See the outrageous comments of the Texas criminal defense lawyer who secured those lower court rulings:

        http://blog.bennettandbennett……n-matters/

      2. More like a “nation of cowherds”

    1. Reason doesn’t seem to. It suggests free speech protects BLM protesters who celebrate cop killings, but not police who criticize them. As Anthony L. Fisher writes:

      “Police are not immune from the consequences of their own online outbursts, as Detroit detective Nate Weekley was reportedly demoted to police officer after writing in a Facebook post that ‘The only racists here are the . . . black Lives Matter terrorists . . .'”

      Reason also has an odd sense of priorities when it comes to criminal justice. (The higher rate of police shootings is almost entirely explained by the higher likelihood of violence towards cops by black suspects (40% of police shootings are by blacks, who are just 13% of the population) — and by the fact that the crime rate is much higher in the black community than society at large. (Most robbers are black, as are 51% of all murderers)).

      Reason should be pushing to release INNOCENT people from jail — by ending the war on drugs — not GUILTY people who commit exceptionally violent murderers (as in Lauren Krisai’s bizarre blog post complaining about Louisiana teenage murderers who received life sentences — sentences that justice, compassion for victims, and proportionality demanded.).

      Letting guilty violent criminals out of jail is also bad, because it gives the correctional industry and prison-employee unions a perverse incentive to ratchet up enforcement of drug laws and ban victimless crimes.

      1. Hey, check this dude out. He really knows how to cut and paste.

        1. My comment is a heck of a lot more substantive than cut and paste.

          In any event, the cop’s speech ought to be recognized as protected under Supreme Court precedent.

          In Rankin v. McPherson (1987), the Supreme Court said far worse speech by a law enforcement employee was protected. McPherson worked for for the Constable of Harris County, Texas. After an attempt to assassinate the President, McPherson had a conversation with a co-worker (also her boyfriend), and said that “If they go for him again, I hope they get him.” Another co-worker overheard, and then reported the remark, and McPherson was fired. The Supreme Court said that was protected speech for which she could not be fired.

          This police officer’s speech seems far less bad, since it was not even pro-crime, unlike McPherson’s speech (he did not endorse a crime, like an assassination, but rather criticized a group, Black Lives Matter, whose members have threatened journalists who wrote critically of them).

          1. What we really need to do is get rid of jails altogether. The really violent criminals can just be killed like they deserve and the nonviolent criminals can spend some time under house arrest. Fairness for everyone and think of all the money it would save.

            1. I could get behind that one.

          2. The Court in McPherson made specific note of the fact that McPherson’s comments were not made in public and did not affect the police department’s ability to do its job. This detective’s comments, on the other hand, are different enough in venue and effect to fall outside the narrow reasoning of McPherson.

      2. Hmmm…

        All these burning straw-men are kind of using up all your oxygen, huh?

      3. Umm. I’m pretty sure Reason frequently points out that getting rid of laws against victimless “crimes” is the most important thing to be done to improve relations with police.

      4. “Reason doesn’t seem to. It suggests free speech protects BLM protesters who celebrate cop killings, but not police who criticize them.”

        The author does not suggest any such thing. You are reading that into the paragraph.

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  2. Related: Indicted Dem: Orlando victims would be alive if agents weren’t investigating me

    *** facepalm ***

    However, it gives me an excuse to post this again.

    1. I want to gradulate….

      I know I’m showing my privilege and all that, but seriously Florida?

      1. Don’t you dare badmouth their cultural differences!

      1. Seconded. That is amazingly crass.

    2. That just got bookmarked.

      I’m going to use it in the future. I don’t know when, but soon. Probably.

    3. Corch Urban Meyers?

    4. From the comments:

      She should have run for president.

      Then Comey would have let her off the hook.

      Sick. Burn.

    5. *groan* Corrine Brown. Good riddance.

    6. “”Two black men were needlessly gunned down by police; five Dallas police officers were slain by a demented man, and on Friday I had to appear in federal court,” she wrote on her blog,”. Sure, those are all pretty much the same.

  3. In Racine (Wi.), Byron L. Cowan, a 43-year-old black man, was arrested by local authorities and the FBI for allegedly writing “This is war,” calling for all black Americans to arm themselves and telling white police officers “to kiss there (sic) loved ones goodbye,” according to The Journal Times. Cowan was charged with solicitation of threat against a law enforcement officer as a hate crime, terrorist threats as a hate crime, and disorderly conduct.

    Disorderly conduct as a hate crime, right? RIGHT?!

  4. Y’all seen this gem yet? http://www.thegatewaypundit.co…..black-man/ pretty sure I’d be fired for something like that..

    1. He’s just letting that cop down easy.

    2. “they give polices…”

  5. One, two, three, four
    I declare a race war!
    Five, six, seven, eight
    Try to make your race great!

  6. Are non-hate crimes committed out of love, like John Hinckley shooting Ronald Reagan?

    1. He loved Jodie Foster, so kinda?

  7. So you can’t say anything negative about BLM without getting blocked or suspended? Didn’t realize a group chanting for dead police officers at a rally were immune to critisism

  8. So, basically, Reason believes in free speech for BLM protesters who celebrate cop killings, but not for cops:

    “Police are not immune from the consequences of their own online outbursts, as Detroit detective Nate Weekley was reportedly demoted to police officer after writing in a Facebook post that “The only racists here are the piece of [expletive] black Lives Matter terrorists and their supporters,” according to Detroit’s Fox2.”

    That seems like a gross double standard.

    By the way, contrary to what some Reason writers have written in the past (Reason accepted some of Black Lives Matters’ false, inflammatory claims about the shooting in Ferguson), there is no evidence of police bias in shootings of blacks versus whites.

    A distinguished black Harvard professor and statistical expert found this in a study reported in the New York Times yesterday:

    http://goo.gl/T9wjWjY

    Higher rates of police shootings of blacks partly reflects the radically higher crime rate among blacks (the murder rate is 8 times as high among blacks as non-Hispanic whites) and partly reflects higher rates of cop killings by blacks (40% of all cop killings are by blacks, compared to a much lower percentage of police shooting victims who are black).

    1. Seriously, if dumb black people would stop being all crimey then police wouldn’t need to get all shooty. Everyone should understand that every law now requires death when violated.

      1. Especially is they’re playing Pokemon at the same time.

        1. Is trying to catch ’em all a hate crime?

          1. enslaving sentient creatures? how is that not hate?

            1. “What do we want?”

              ANIME RIGHTS!

              “When do we want them?”

              RIGHT NOW!!!

              *readies for police fired tear gas canisters*

              1. Pokeball shaped canisters even.

    2. Can you not see the difference between (i) a police officer doing this and getting some sort of professional punishment and (2) a non-officer blowing off some steam and getting arrested and thrown in jail charged with multiple felonies?

      1. In Rankin v. McPherson (1987), the Supreme Court said far worse speech by a law enforcement employee was protected. McPherson was basically a secretary for the Constable of Harris County, Texas. After an attempt to assassinate the President, McPherson had a conversation with a co-worker (also her boyfriend), and said that “If they go for him again, I hope they get him.” Another co-worker overheard, and then reported the remark, and McPherson was fired.

        The Supreme Court said that was protected. Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U.S. 378 (1987).

        This police officer’s speech seems far less bad (he did not endorse a crime, like an assassination, but rather criticized a group, Black Lives Matter, whose members have threatened journalists who wrote critically of them).

        But law, schmaw. As we all know, in our “fundamentally transformed America,” lefty pro-crime speech (especially when uttered by a person of color, like McPherson) enjoys more protection in practice than politically-incorrect speech (regardless of what the First Amendment and case law may say).

        1. Ah, so shorter FSM: Cops can say what they want, but as soon as one of them naggers tries to speak, we get the pitchforks out.

        2. Is that you, Tulpa? I hope you finally paid what you owe on that bet you lost.

          In any case, the big problem with BLM is that they ignore the actual root of the problem — police unions — and instead whitewash the issue as a racist thing.

          It’s not like trigger happy cops never kill non-blacks. They are only too happy to cut down anyone who resists their authoritah or makes them “feel unsafe.” In that way, they are just like the campus SJWs, except SJWs don’t have body armor, billy clubs, or Glocks (not yet at least).

          When you protect and coddle a bully, you get bullies who are that much more bolder — plus other bullies start coming out of the woodwork to join up.

          1. This is it in a nutshell.

      2. Well can you see the difference between someone calling people “[Expletive]” and “racists”, versus calling for people to be murdered? Regardless of whether the latter meets the standard of a real crime or is just “blowing off steam”.

        Not that I see much problem with the govt disciplining employees for that kind of behavior.

    3. I think the writer was pointing out that even the police are not immune to consequences for social media postings right now. Granted, it should be noted that the police officer faced a demotion at work for his online outburst, instead of being locked in a cage like the non-police citizens.

      1. Apparently, you do not understand that the First Amendment does not contain a workplace “consequences for social media postings” exception. While public employees have fewer free speech rights against their employer than citizens have against the government acting as a regulator, they do have a right to speak out on matters of public concern, without being subject to adverse “consequences” — such as the issue of Black Lives Matter, which has threatened people who have written op-eds criticizing it. See the Supreme Court’s decision in Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U.S. 378 (1987).

        A demotion in retaliation for protected speech is certainly forbidden by the First Amendment. See Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62, 76 n.8 (1990) (even minor forms of retaliation forbidden).

        By constantly portraying the police, as a whole, as an organization of racist murderers who must be stopped, BLM helped create the climate for the Dallas shootings. Such as marching through the streets, chanting:
        “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” and: “Pigs in a blanket fry em’ like bacon!”

        Under the Supreme Court’s Brandenburg decision, even celebrating cop killings is generally protected speech. But it’s odd to see BLM taking advantage of expansive protections on speech, while trying to shut down those who criticize it. BLM members have sent threatening messages to journalists who wrote critically about it, and took issue with its claims.

        1. I think Rutan comes closer to actually covering this detective’s actions but it too is narrowly reasoned, this time in terms of party affiliation. It’s also notable that you’ve now cited two 5-4 decisions with Scalia, Rehnquist, and O’Connor in dissent. I’m thus far inclined to say that the Court was wrong in both cases.

        2. I sure as hell do not understand that. In fact, it might even be said that I do not see a problem with the govt disciplining employees for that kind of behavior. I’d note that you have very narrowly defined the argument in order to pretend yours is the only way to argue the case, when it never is, plus being kinda annoying about.

        3. @FreeSpeechMatters

          Whoa buddy, someone is on edge.

          I wasn’t saying it was okay for the police department to demote him… I think people should be able to post whatever they want on their social media accounts without retaliation against their life, liberty or property. I was just pointing out my interpretation of the author’s writing.

  9. So, when they gave that toddler 3rd degree burns, was that also a hate crime? Seems to me that they hated illegal drugs so much, they didn’t care if they threw a grenade into the wrong house. The War on Drugs is itself a hate crime.

    How about choking someone to death for selling individual cigarettes? That is a hate crime spawned by hatred of Big Tobacco, right?

    When they shot an elderly deaf man in his bed for failing to comply with the orders (which he was unable to hear) that would be a hate crime too, right? It is based on hatred of old people (ageism).

    You see? The little “hate crime” crime game can cut both ways.

    1. Plus they hate concealed carry.

      1. And don’t forget the cans, they hate these cans!

    2. Love your couple of posts on this topic, Inigo. But just wanted to point out that those police threw the flash grenade into the right house, but relied on BS evidence that was wrong, and if they did any of their own investigation (as opposed to relying on a dirt bag informant who was trying to protect his own ass), that instance would have never occurred. I would claim the only “hate crime” that police are guilty of is “hating” to do their job and doing it well.

  10. 19 posts in and no one has even been thrown into a woodchipper?

    Nice restraint here, people!

    1. *throws Bobarian into a woodchipper*

      Now that’s quality hate speech!

  11. The cops better not be monitoring this site because they may not like what they see. Amazing how they don’t seem to want to acknowledge the part they’ve played in this mess.

    /turns woodchipper on.

    1. Amazing how they don’t seem to want to acknowledge the part they’ve played in this mess.

      Nothing amazing about it. In their minds they can do no wrong. That is because they can’t. I mean, really. They do whatever they want, and nobody stops them. They lie and believe it’s the truth because the courts will always defer to their word, even when there is video that shows their words to be lies. They routinely rob and assault people, and even commit murder, all without consequence. They can do no wrong. So of course none of this is their fault. It’s the fault of the people who record them or make dashcam/bodycam footage public. But it isn’t their deeds. No. They are incapable of wrongdoing.

      1. But this is a direct result of the propaganda we’ve been handed our entire life. Does no one remember the “Officer Friendly” program where they sent cops to elementary schools to begin the indoctrination? In my mind’s eye, law enforcement is just the government’s domestic military, used to control the populace. Am I wrong in stating that the Red Coats were nothing but law enforcement for the British government. I do not believe our fore-fathers honored or respected them, so why should I just because they wear a different color uniform and work for a different government?

  12. The Dallas police chief’s comments following the shootings, at least those of his I heard, were surprisingly enlightened: society asks too much of police. When drug policy fails, it’s police who are expected to make it work. Police are de facto mental health workers. When public educators fail to rein in students, police are invited onto campus to deal with them. Stray dogs on the loose? Send police to capture them. I would add to that: working as revenuers for their own or the city’s budget. Acting as proxies for federal law enforcement. Acting as occupiers in cities suffering institutional collapse. And so forth.

    None of this exonerate cops for behaving badly or covering for others who misbehave, but it does speak to an important, probably the central, factor in all of this: reliance on government to solve all social ills, and its inevitable failure to take them on without making things worse. I don’t know anything about the guy, and I get the sense he’s not exactly calling for radical subsidiarity. It’s more like a PBS funding drive. But whether he knows it or not, he’s speaking the language of radical subsidiarity and a greater reliance on community and individuals. Government has failed. Welfarism has failed. Public education has failed. Drug policy has failed. And public policing, a necessary evil even in a libertarian society, is failing too.

    1. *raises lighter and sways back and forth*

    2. Oh, and furthermore: enforcing gun restrictions. Mediating domestic disputes. Serving warrants and making arrests for an ever-more-pervasive criminal justice system. “Sex slavery” stings. Various and sundry crackdowns on things like DUI or, for god’s sake, selling loosies.

      Sure, many cops benefit from these policies, and more than a few enjoy the power trip. Several cops in the DUI task force here in Albuquerque, a city with a median income just shy of fifty grand, make north of six digits after all the court apperances and overtime they put in. But the over-reliance on cops as enforcers of the will of the state (and, lets face it, modern-day eugenicists for the progressive era) has made policing as a profession an unfeasible duty for anyone without a stony heart and the brain of a bureaucrat. They have become functionaries of the state, not intermediaries whose job it is to interpose themselves between citizens and state. Customs like cops letting off minors in possession after making them pour out the beer bottles would never fly today.

      1. I think the Dallas police chief is right, and thus will likely be pilloried over his comment.

        Welfare and subsidies are the carrot, cops are the stick. Our democratically elected government requires someone to carry out all of the promises that the voters demand and politicians make.

        You are also right that many cops enjoy the power trip and many of their organizations want to keep the power they have, if not get more. Some of them are true believers, some of them are hangers-on, most probably have some combination of the two.

        The problem is that nobody* is willing to stand back and say “this is such a fucking shitshow, we need to scrap 90% of the laws and start the fuck over”.

        * = Statistically speaking

  13. “Clearly, calling for police or anyone else to be killed could be seen as an incitement to violence, which is not protected by the First Amendment. ”

    Actually it is. In fact, it’s the entire point of the First Amendment. Too bad the Constitution doesn’t actually matter any more.

    1. It, without a doubt, is protected. It is, well, bluster.

      “Kill all cops. They deserve to die” — Protected speech
      “Kill all cops. Let’s start with that cop over there. Get him!” – True threat. Not protected.

      It’s really not that difficult.

      1. I mean, fuck, there are those red pill/foreveralone types who think Elliot Rodger is a hero, and they call him such. I mean, that’s kind of fucked up. But it’s protected.

      2. Until you add “And I hope they burn in hell!”, at which point a certain USAG starts hyperventilating.

  14. Seeing that picture reminds me of the time a plumber I worked with was killed by an SBD some terrorist had fired off in a public toilet. All the local plumbers showed up for his funeral parade – the Ty-D-Bol man leading, plungers shouldered, ass cracks shined and polished, toilet seats at half-mast, a 21-flush salute as our noble warrior’s toilet-paper draped coffin was lowered into a septic tank, the vigil afterwards where everybody lit a match – it made your eyes water just seeing the pomp and ceremony. I’m sure we’ll all go out like that, with a solemn worship service commemorating our noble sacrifice of accidentally being in the wrong place at the wrong time like so many of our Brave Heroes.

    1. killed by an SBD some terrorist had fired off in a public toilet

      That is a serious case of falafel farts.

    2. Damn, I almost spewed coffee all over my keyboard. That was hilarious.

    3. I bow to your wit sir,

  15. There have been people fired from their jobs due to stupid posts.That’s fine,free market and all.If a cop’s employer does not want him posting certain things that’s their right. Throw people in jail,that’s the state punishing speech. One of these is not like the other.

    1. According to the Supreme Court, it is not the “free market” when a PUBLIC employer fires an employee for free speech on a matter of public concern. The government, unlike private employers, is subject to the First Amendment.

      Rather, that violates the First Amendment, according to the Supreme Court, if the speech involves a matter of public concern, and is not disruptive. See the Supreme Court’s decisions in Pickering v. Board of Education and in Rankin v. McPherson (1987).

      1. I stand corrected I understand. it would be political speech .It’s seems that the cops want it both ways,free speech for me and jail for you.They still can;t grasp that all the videos being posted week after week are causing the problem .And their ‘mafia’ code of silence tars them all.

  16. What smells like shit in here?

  17. It should be pretty clear that there is a difference between intentional advocacy for criminal acts and blowing off steam on Facebook.

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    1. $1800/mo posting hate speech on Facebook?

  19. While I am opposed to ‘hate speech’ laws – because speech doesn’t incite violence of others (as if it were contagious – I think it’s up to the ‘good’ people to police the bad guys on this issue), the government must prosecute criminal threats. Including when they originate from the government itself.

  20. I see Tulpa has a shiny new sock puppet.

    1. Sometimes I think we reduce all trolls to Tulpa socks, because it’s too scary to think there are others as stupid as he is.

      (but yeah, this one’s definitely a Tulpa sock)

  21. “…some (people) are lashing out on social media with statements that have been variously described as “hate speech” or “criminal threats.””

    No one should expect truth or legal responses from thugs who have been abusing their position for years.

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