I’ve been harassed online by a demented Canadian for over 20 years. He’s still at it, but at a much lower rate, fortunately, but years ago I printed out a couple of months worth of his threats and hatred — it was a stack of hundreds of pages — and plunked it down at my local police station, and told them about the problem. They had no idea what to do.
At the height of the Catholic annoyance with my desecration of a cracker, I was getting death threats every day. I reported them to the police a few times. They shrugged.
I’ve had people send me email with specific, credible threats: they’re going to come to town on such-and-such a day. They have this weapon. They have my home address. They are going to show up at my university office.
The response? Nothing. I’ve given them names and email addresses and IP numbers. No action of any kind is taken, not even sending a warning.
I still get routine threats of maiming and abuse and murder. I’ve given up completely. I know from years of experience that the police will do nothing. I’ve heard every explanation: “It’s just social media,” they say. “Grow a thicker skin.” “We can’t do anything until they actually act.” “It’s free speech.”
I know women who experience far worse, far more often. By comparison to the police, Twitter is a model of friendly, fast-acting responsiveness to abuse and harassment, and if you know anything of Twitter, it’s a scum-sucking friend to every asshole on the internet.
But apparently, I’ve just been doing it wrong. I should have just joined the police.
Four men in Detroit were arrested over the past week for posts on social media that the police chief called threatening. One tweet that led to an arrest said that Micah Johnson, the man who shot police officers in Dallas last week, was a hero. None of the men have been named, nor have they been charged.
“I know this is a new issue, but I want these people charged with crimes,” said Detroit Police Chief James Craig. “I’ve directed my officers to prepare warrants for these four individuals, and we’ll see which venue is the best to pursue charges,” he said.
The self-serving hypocrisy is breath-taking to anyone who has had to deal with ongoing harassment on social media. For decades I’ve been told that nothing can ever be done about written threats. Suddenly that has changed now that the police are getting the same treatment.
An Illinois woman, Jenesis Reynolds, was arrested for writing in a Facebook post that she would shoot an officer who would pull her over. “I have no problem shooting a cop for simple traffic stop cuz they’d have no problem doing it to me,” she wrote, according to the police investigation. She was charged with disorderly conduct.
In New Jersey, Rolando Medina was arrested and charged with cyber harassment. He allegedly posted on an unidentified form of social media that he would destroy local police headquarters. In Louisiana, Kemonte Gilmore was arrested for an online video where he allegedly threatened a police officer. He was charged with public intimidation.
“Disorderly conduct”? “Public intimidation”? But I’ve been repeatedly told that there is no applicable charge to be made against, for example, someone who has declared that he’s going to shoot me in the head and rape my wife! This is news to me.
This is not to say I think the police should be arresting people who say rude things to me — there are serious civil liberties issues here. The article makes the point that there is legal precedent that sets a very high standard for taking action, which is fine with me.
The policing of online threats is hardly a new issue. The Supreme Court set a precedent last year when it ruled that prosecutors pursuing a charge of communicating threats need to prove both that reasonable people would view the statement as a threat and that the intent was to threaten. Elonis v. United States dealt with a man who had posted violent rap lyrics about his estranged wife; the court reversed his conviction.
The problem, though, is that the police apparently have one standard for action against people who are rude to them, and a very different standard when it comes to the people they are supposed to protect and serve. You can’t say “I have no problem shooting a cop” without being charged with a crime, but you can say “I’m going to murder PZ Myers” with no risk of even a warning.
So fuck the police. They’re worse than useless when it comes to harassment — they’re enablers of every bad behavior, except when it affects their delicate sensitivities.