After sixteen mass shootings in 2012 and the recent Boston bombings, the country is undoubtedly hypersensitive to potential violence, but did Methuen High School cross the line? The school took preemptive action yesterday, weighing the safety of others against the fulfillment of the student’s first amendment right to post his thoughts to his Facebook wall.
When Cameron D’Ambrosio did not arrive to school yesterday, a classmate tipped of administrators about a rap he had posted to Facebook saying "everybody you will see what I am going to do, kill people." The school staff and Methuen Police acted quickly, and D’Ambrosio was in custody by 1:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The school administration did everything correctly today by protecting the public safety of their students. While D’Ambrosio’s First Amendment right allows him to voice his opinions of dislike on the government, voicing potential threats in not permissible with public safety is at stake.
The 1969 Supreme Court case, Brandenburg v. Ohio, sets precedent for law enforcement to infringe freedom of speech when the speech shows potential for the law to be broken. The speech must provoke the law, and be both “imminent and likely.”
While a judge eventually decides whether D’Ambrosio’s rhymes met these two qualifications or if he fits the drastic label of terrorist, the school acted with prior knowledge of his demeanor in deciding the threat was indeed likely to occur. Their low tolerance for violence is an effective way of ensuring their school remains a safe environment for learning and doesn’t turn into a place of massacre.
By erring on the side of caution, the arrest has landed D’Ambrosio with a hefty felony charge for the communication terrorist dangers. While empty threats can easily be made in a moment of sarcasm, it is the bigger picture that suggested to the school that D’Ambrosio’s comment posed a likelihood of harming the Methuen High School student population. Dark humor, interest in violence, and negative messages posted to Facebook cast a shadow of doubt on the levity of the situation. The school’s observant nature and care for the safety of the school motivated their decision to prevent any act of violence from occurring. While the rap may seem inoffensive, the consequences for being wrong weighed far too high for the Methuen Police.
The extent of protection provided to D’Ambrosio by the First Amendment will ultimately be decided in court. Until then, students at Methuen High School will rest assured their administration is committed to providing a safe learning environment during an era of uncertainty surrounding acts of violence in our schools.