Hit & Run

High School Boys Made the Nazi Salute in a Prom Photo. That's Terrible, But Not a Crime.

Social media can shame them and the school can punish them, but the police shouldn't intervene.

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Nazi
Screenshot via Twitter

A troll-ish photo from Wisconsin shows about 50 boys performing the Nazi salute. The juvenile and obnoxious picture, which was taken at Baraboo High School's junior prom last spring, has attracted some well-deserved shaming from the media. The school district is investigating as well—not improperly, since junior prom is a school function.

Less defensibly, the police are investigating the matter too. "At this point, I really can't comment too much because it's an active case," Police Captain Rob Sinden tells The Huffington Post.

I'm not sure why the police need to be involved in this at all, since it's not a criminal matter. It is not illegal to make a Nazi salute; pro-Nazi hand gestures are protected under the First Amendment. Nor is this a "hate crime," properly understood, since there's no underlying criminal issue to address. Making a Nazi salute while engaging in assault or theft or property defacement could result in additional charges; that doesn't seem to apply here. (I have emailed Sinden for comment, and I will update this post if I hear back.)

It should be possible to punish misbehavior—either informally, via social shaming, or formally, via normal school disciplinary procedures—without involving the police each and every time a teenager does something stupid.