Last week, the Methuen, Mass., police department arrested 18-year old aspiring rapper Cameron D’Ambrosio. The teenager is being held on $1 million bail for “communicating terroristic threats,” a felony in Massachusetts punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Those are pretty serious charges.
But, what D’Ambrosio did doesn’t quite seem as serious as the charges levied against him.
He wrote some rap lyrics on Facebook.
“Ya’ll want me to [expletive] kill somebody?” and “[expletive] a Boston bombing wait till you see the [expletive] I do. I’m a be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!”
Obviously, not only are the lyrics written in poor taste given their proximity to the actual attacks, they’re just not very good either. But, that doesn’t make posting them online illegal.
Cue the First Amendment to the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
What the Methuen Police Department has done should not stand up to Constitutional scrutiny. Perhaps D’Ambrosio’s inflammatory lyrics warrant further investigation, but the cops went too far here. They have not offered any evidence he is involved in any active plots. They didn’t tell us how many guns or bombs they found in his home. He’s simply a kid trying to be bad like he’s the next Eminem.
This story signifies a shift in police tactics. Cops are under constant pressure to stop every attack before they happen. The FBI unfairly received criticism for not keeping a closer eye on Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the Boston Marathon bombing.
On some level, it’s understandable why the Methuen police didn’t want to take any chances. Thinking like that though runs counter to living in a free country. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to specifically make it difficult for the government to arrest and charge citizens.
Many police departments are using fear of terrorism to skirt basic rights and are going so far as arresting a suburban white kid for posting “dangerous” lyrics online. The new law enforcement strategy seems to be arrest them all, sort them out later.
Take this from the Christian Science Monitor:
The way law enforcement agencies approach online activity that appears sinister is this: “If you’re not a terrorist, if you’re not a threat, prove it,” (Sgt Ed. Mullins with the NYPD) says.
“This is the price you pay to live in free society right now. It’s just the way it is,” Mullins adds.
Maybe in China or Russia that’s “just the way it is,” but it’s supposed to the exact opposite in America. Because we live in a free society the onus is on the government to prove someone is a terrorist. Not the other way around.