Arena, Wisconsin is a village of roughly 800 people, most of whom are white, politically liberal, and materially comfortable. Despite having a very low crime rate, the village has a police department that, like every other, exists primarily to collect revenue.
Two years ago, police arrested three “out-of-state juvenile males” on suspicion of burglarizing a business. Two of the suspects “were detained by residents until law enforcement arrived,” the department noted in its Facebook page. The three unfamiliar black men were conspicuous in a tiny village with a nearly all-white population, and by the time the police arrived all of the difficult work had been done. Perhaps as a way to compensate for its deserved sense of worthlessness, the Arena PD arrested someone whose only role in this affair was to publish a derisive remark on the department’s Facebook page.
Several residents of Arena and the surrounding area posted complaints regarding some of the tactics used by police to track down the suspects. Thomas Smith’s contribution to the discussion, such as it was, was replete with misspellings, foul language, and racially charged language – “F**k the f*****g cops, they ant sh*t but f*****g racist bastards,” reads one representative sample.
Whether that characterization was warranted, Smith had an unqualified right to express his opinions. He made no threats of violence, didn’t insinuate support for such acts, and had no means to carry out any threats he might have made. Yet he was arrested and charged with “disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a computerized communication system.” A jury quickly convicted him of that supposed offense.
A Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge overturned that conviction on July 3, ruling that nothing in Smith’s admittedly uncouth statement constituted “fighting words” or a “true threat” that would supposedly justify an exception to First Amendment protections. Although the conviction will be vacated, Smith was still kidnapped at gunpoint, shackled, fingerprinted, caged, and put through an expensive legal ordeal simply for making nasty comments about armed “public servants.”
Police agencies across the country have been militarized and indoctrinated into the belief that the public is their enemy. Surely such bold and valiant badasses don’t require protection against nasty Facebook comments.1:25 pm on July 7, 2014