Every time I look at this young man’s photo, my heart breaks apart for him and his family:
Cameron D’Ambrosio should not be in handcuffs. He should not be in a court room. He should not have been arrested, and he damn well sure should not have been accused of Communicating a Terrorist Threat, or threatened with 20 years in prison for making what amounts to poor word choices.
Before charges were even formally filed, local newspapers were already posting pictures from Cam’s facebook and pointing to “disturbing” posts like “Fuck politics. Fuck Obama. Fuck the government!” and “satanic” imagery (like some image from a metal band’s poster.) All of this is free speech that is 100% protected by the 1st Amendment.
And then there’s this:
Fox News went so far as to say that Cam’s facebook profile had images that they “couldn’t show on TV.” They and other media outlets frequently and intentionally printed only a small section of the lyrics that Cam was arrested for allegedly writing, and took them out of context to make rap metaphors sound like a real threat.
The media printed:
“(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do, I’ma be famous”
The actual line is:
“(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do, I’ma be famous rapping”
Notice something? The context completely changes the meaning of the line. Suddenly something that sounds like a threat of violence is clearly just bragging about how good Cammy Dee is going to be in the rap game. Last we checked, teenage dreams of grandeur were not a crime.
Such omissions are scandalous. You can see one example here (they also incorrectly stated that Cameron pleaded “guilty.” He pled “not guilty.”). The source above also reported that Cameron was arrested on a previous assault and battery charge, but neglected to mention that those charges were later dismissed.
This case involves a number of horrifying breaches of journalistic ethics, paired with a complete, utter failure to exercise prosecutorial discretion. A young 18-year old man with his whole life ahead of him may spend the next 20 years of his life in prison for doing nothing more than posting uncouth status updates on his Facebook page. As Rob D’Ovidio, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University, said recently:
When I was young, calling a bomb threat to your high school because you didn’t want to go to school that day was treated with a slap on the wrist. Try that nowadays and you’re going to prison, no question about it. They are taking it more seriously now[.]
“There are no more threats that are high school pranks,” said Joseph Solomon, police chief, during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “If they’re thinking that way, they need to get their heads into 2013.”
This is the incarceration nation in motion. The fear of legitimate threats is used to extend the scope of punitive executive scrutiny to cases that otherwise would’ve been dealt with outside the criminal justice system. Stupid mistakes and ill-timed remarks become serious felonies with decades in prison as the penalty.
Cases like this highlight the need for people to push back against the overcriminalization of America. We need to stop sending our kids to prison for dumb mistakes. We need to stop traumatizing 18-year olds by making them do the perp walk, and then telling them they’re facing 20 years in prison for being oafish online. None of this is necessary. All of it is unjust, improper, and counterproductive.
Q. re: Ambrosia: “D’Ambrosio has a history of making violent threats, once to his sister and once to a pair of eighth graders. Police responded to an incident in 2006, during which a woman said D’Ambrosio bit her son. In September, another student severely beat D’Ambrosio and put him in the hospital. Police Chief Joseph Solomon said the altercation started with a Facebook post by D’Ambrosio about the student’s girlfriend.” — guyatree
A. Ok, so he bit someone, made threats, and got beat up for being a jerk on Facebook. In civilized societies, we don’t punish people for made-up crimes because we don’t like them or their past antics.
The issue at hand isn’t whether or not this is an unsavory individual — that question seems very settled already.
The issue at hand is that it’s a huge violation of the First Amendment to jail a kid for terrorism because he tactlessly wrote on Facebook that his coming rap career would receive more media coverage than the Boston bombing. Free speech is a right held even by jerks.
(Note: This question and my answer references this story. D’Ambrosia is the kid in jail.)
LTMC: There’s also a question of what, if any crime he actually committed.Even if we assumed that he did commit a crime, simply mentioning the Boston bombing in a sentence is not tantamount to Communicating a Terrorist Threat. Making verbal threats in the past is not the same as Communicating a Terrorist Threat. Biting someone is not the same as Communicating a Terrorist threat. Talking shit about someone’s girlfriend on facebook is not the same as Communicating a Terrorist threat. There is a reason why those types of prior bad acts generally get excluded from evidence in court.
When you look at the context of D’Ambrosio’s facebook post, it’s clear to any reasonable person that he wasn’t mentioning the Boston bombing as an analogy for future acts he intended to commit. He’s referring to the size of the media coverage surrounding the bombings, and saying that his rap career would garner even more media coverage than the Boston bombings.
Was this insensitive? Perhaps. But that’s completely irrelevant to the legal analysis of his actions. Think about how many “insensitive” 9/11 jokes were made on the internet after the Twin Towers collapsed. Was the person who made this series of pictures guilty of Communicating a Terrorist Threat?
This is a perfect demonstration of Harvey Silverglate’s thesis in Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.Federal law enforcement officials transmute innocent conduct into criminal activity by stringing together unrelated statements and occurrences, and then presenting them to judges and juries as if they’re meaningful. D’Ambrosio’s statement had nothing to do with terrorism, and everything to do with media coverage. He’s guilty of nothing more than using a poor comparison. But the only reason it’s poor in the first place is because of the risk that overzealous federal authorities might misinterpret his remarks. The wrongful act here is not D’Ambrosio’s statement, but the overzealous enforcement of a misguided federal law.
"For some reason when it comes to my indigent ghetto clients, it becomes easy to forget that people, including those who break the law, are complicated and often charming. That they too contain multitudes. Oddly, no one has trouble understanding the humanity of White crooks. We mythologize them all the time—Bonnie and Clyde, John Gotti, Carolyn Warmus—all are complex people we find ways to relate to and even admire. At the movies we cheer for Butch and Sundance, Scarface, or [the] Ocean’s Eleven crew. The fact that John Gotti was a ruthless killer who wreaked havoc on far more lives than any of my clients ever touched never eclipses the public memory of him as big, handsome, and defiant. People loved Gotti’s resistance to governmental authority. But put a Black face on Gotti and no matter how dapper a don he is, the press, the prosecutors, and the public only read menace. I’ve often represented people as “big,” “handsome,” and “defiant” as John Gotti, yet when I invoke the humanity of these faceless robbers and killers, it sends most listeners from the land of mere confusion to that of utter incomprehension. To this day, I wrestle with where this understanding goes off the rails. Fundamentalist Christians constantly speak passionately about seeing the possibility of redemption in everyone, and no one bats an eye. But make this same point in the secular context of the criminal justice system, and rather than praiseworthy piety it is head as liberal gibberish."
Seriously, conservatives need to wake up and realize that Benghazi just isn’t the scandal they so desperately want it to be. …[E]ven if there was some remote possibility that conservatives could have stoked outrage in moderates and independents over Benghazi, that ship has long since sailed and sunk. The only thing that could make Benghazi more useless as national election fodder would be if Republicans were caught falsifying the contents of easily verifiable administration emails in order to score conservative media ratings.
Oh wait, that’s exactly what they did do. Last week. With great fanfare. When they had two actual scandals the public would have cared about.
Tod Kelly, whose post is worth reading in full. He points out that the GOP was handed two scandals by a Democratic administration, and completely squandered the political capital gained therefrom by continuing to devote political resources to shine a light on Benghazi.
From a purely political perspective, the GOP has done a terrible job of “managing” these scandals. To wit, they’ve consistently undermined their own credibility by saying things about the scandals that have no basis in fact:
This weekend Rand Paul went on CNN and claimed that the IRS actually has a written policy instructing its employees to target “people opposed to the President.” That’s a pretty damning accusation to make, and it’s one that is sure to be brought up for countless hours on Fox news and talk radio. It might even be enough to heavily damage Obama, save one small thing: this written policy that IRS agents everywhere rely on? Apparently it’s one that Paul has not actually, you know, seen. He’s heard about it of course, (though he can’t say from who), but he just can’t get his hands on it. (Because really, how could one expect to get their hands on a written policy statement that steers a federal government department that employs around 100,000 people?)
This is the sort of thing that you need to be able to back up. The IRS scandal should have been a big win politically for the GOP, even though it’s not quite the scandal they’re claiming it is. But they’ve destroyed much of the political capital they could have gained from it by saying things that are false, or for which they have no concrete basis. ”A little bird told me” doesn’t hold water most of the time.
Observing that only about 12 percent of police stops resulted in an arrest or summons, Judge Scheindlin, who is hearing the case without a jury, focused her remarks on Monday on the other 88 percent of stops, in which the police did not find evidence of criminality after a stop. She characterized that as “a high error rate” and remarked to a lawyer representing the city, “You reasonably suspect something and you’re wrong 90 percent of the time.”
In a recent report card from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), comparing which tech companies protect user’s data from government snooping, Yahoo received one of the lowest scores with only one out of five stars. Tumblr performed significantly better, receiving three stars for requiring a warrant for content, fighting for users’ privacy rights in Congress, and publishing law enforcement guidelines.
LTMC: Yet another reason to be skeptical of the buyout.
"According to an ongoing study conducted by Black Women’s Blueprint, sixty percent of Black girls have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. More than 300 Black women nationwide participated in the research project. A similar study conducted by The Black Women’s Health Imperative seven years ago found the rate of sexual assault was approximately 40%."
There are many reasons why Black women may choose not to report incidences of sexual assault. Survivors of all races often fear that they will not be believed or will be blamed for their attack, but Black women face unique challenges.
Historically, law enforcement has been used to control African-American communities through brutality and racial profiling. It may be difficult for a Black woman to seek help if she feels it could be at the expense of African-American men or her community. The history of racial injustice (particularly the stereotype of the Black male as a sexual predator) and the need to protect her community from further attack might persuade a survivor to remain silent.
We don’t steal, we don’t gamble, we don’t lie, and we don’t cheat. And that also deprives the government of revenue. Because you can’t get into a whiskey bottle without getting past the government’s seal. You can’t get into a deck of cards without getting past the government seal. There, the White man makes the whiskey and then puts you in jail for getting drunk. He sells you the cards and the dice and puts you in jail when he catches you using them. So he’s against us, because we fix it where he can’t catch you anymore. We take the dice out of your hands, and the cards out of your hands, and the whiskey out of your head.
Also, here is Malcolm X on the position of Black women in America, from the same speech:
The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman. And as Muslims, the honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us to respect our women, and to protect our women. And the only time a Muslim really gets real violent is when someone goes to molest his woman. We will kill you for our woman. …We believe that if the White man will do whatever is necessary to see that his woman gets respect and protection, then you and I will never be recognized as men, until we stand up like men and place the same penalty over the head of anyone who puts his filthy hands out in the direction of our women.
Clearly this discourse would be a bit problematic today, as traditional gendered notions of “male as protector” are not quite as prominent as they were back then. Nonetheless, the vulnerability of Black women in the 1950’s and 60’s was real, and is stillreal today. Malcolm X was then, as ever, unafraid to “make it plain” for those that would listen.
Today is Malcolm X’s birthday. He would’ve been 88. I wanted to take a moment to remember his contribution to the American civil rights movement.
Most people view Malcolm X as a manifestation of one side of the two biggest prongs of the civil rights movement. On the one side, you had the likes of Martin Luther King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the NAACP, who preferred legislative engagement and non-violent resistance. On the other side, you have Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party, who did not preach violence, but nonetheless asserted a right for Black citizens to defend themselves against any aggression, whether from private or official in nature. Mixed somewhere in-between, you have folks like Stokely Carmichael and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, which began as a community organizing outfit, but later became “radical,” protesting the Vietnam War and later changing its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee before falling out of existence in the 1970’s.
Malcolm X’s primary contribution to the civil rights movement was to give a voice to the frustration felt by every Black American during the 1950’s and 60’s. He saw that the White stranglehold on the levers of power persisted despite years of non-violent struggle. He saw that even moderate White liberals who claimed to support racial equality often wavered and waffled when it came to political action on behalf of the Black community. His resistance to integration was scary to those who believed that it was a necessary step for racial progress. But his resistance was based on a life lived in perpetual witness of constant indignity and political disappointment. He also saw the contradictions that were constantly played out in the “White media,” as where the Nation of Islam was consistently accused of preaching racial hatred. His infamous response before a crowd in Los Angeles in 1962 still resonates today:
Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to, so much so that you don’t want to be around each other? No, before you come asking Mr. Muhammad does he teach hate, you should ask yourself who taught you to hate being what God made you.
Malcolm’s response does not directly address the question of whether the Nation of Islam preached hate, but rather points out a fundamental problem with the question itself. The question assumes, firstly, that there was no institutional aggression against Blacks, when clearly there was. That institutional aggression was based in part on the legacy of Black inferiority that still infected American culture in the 1950’s and 60’s, which is what makes Malcolm’s response relevant. Moreover, the question also assumes that like acts are being treated alike. When Whites asserted the right to defend themselves from aggression, no unusual violent motivations were imputed to them. But when Blacks asserted the same right, they were accused of inciting racial hatred and advocating violence. Malcolm believed it was reprehensible to live in a world where Whites were free to use violence to defend themselves and their families, but Blacks must remain committed to non-violence. Malcolm believed that this was simply a further perpetuation of the inequality of condition that defined race relations in America in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Even those sympathetic to Malcolm X don’t necessarily agree with everything he said. But you don’t have to agree with all of it to recognize its importance. Even when he was wrong, Malcolm X was still giving voice to the frustrations of countless Black citizens who were consistently abused in both private and official relations. He is, unfortunately, unduly vilified in many “main stream” history textbooks, despite being an important voice in the civil rights movement. His ideas had an enormous impact on public discourse. He is worth remembering, worth listening to, and worth reading, especially for those who have not been exposed to his work.