Saturday, May 2, 2015

The American police state: Woman arrested as terrorist, banned from social media for Facebook post

Once upon a time there was a country where the constitution said you have freedom of speech. In face of the continuing murder of Blacks by police, a 33-year-old Black woman expresses her anger by writing a status on her Facebook page the Monday night of the Baltimore rebellion saying that cops should be killed.

It was, obviously and transparently, an expression of rage, for she adds, "I condone black on white killings."Why? Because "they condone crimes against us."

She even pulls out the Constitution to defend her right to express her anger in such extreme terms. She says that police are "reading this ... right now" and adding "Freedom of speech, tho. So when you can absolutely show me in the 1st amendment where it explicitly says you can't say 'kill all cops' then I'll delete my status. Other than that.... NOPE."

Still, on Tuesday, the next day, she deletes the post. My guess is she thought better of how she expressed her anguish.

The fairy tale: end of story.

The reality: acting as part of a widespread multi-agency effort, cops raid the woman's home on Tuesday, April 28. They confiscate all sorts of property including three computers and a cellphone, and arrest her on some sort of terrorism charge(s).

Press reports say the agencies involved included: the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security,  the Fulton County District Attorney, the Atlanta Police, the East Point Police, the Fulton County Sheriff and the New York Police Department. (No explanation is given for the NYPD, but it is listed with the rest.)

WSB-TV channel 2 credited itself with an assist, saying the station had "reported it [the post] to Atlanta Police and our FBI contacts," according to the corporate outlet's own news story. Channel 2 is part of Cox, the dominant news operation in Atlanta, which also owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and six radio stations, including the main news and talk station.

According to 11 Alive, Gannet's Atlanta TV station, the woman, Ebony Dickens "was charged with dissemination of information to facilitate terroristic threats."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said she was "charged with making terroristic threats," adding that "Police said Wednesday they would try to get charges upgraded to a felony, because a gun found during a search showed she had the means to carry out the threats."

Channel 2 claims: "Dickens has been charged with disseminating information related to terrorist acts."

CNN, a national outlet based in Atlanta, agreed with Channel 2: "Dickens, 33, appeared in court Wednesday on a charge of disseminating information related to terrorist acts."

But CNN seems to think there was an aggravating factor. Their story begins, "A fake name on a Facebook post can still get you in real trouble," adding that "Ebony Dickens of East Point, Georgia, posted her Facebook rant under the name Tiffany Milan, police said."

And then there is what a judge did. Instead of apologizing to her and raking the cops and prosecutors over the coals for violating the woman's constitutional rights, the judge forced her to post a $10,000 bond and "banned her from social media" as a condition for releasing her from jail.

This was a clearly illegal, nay, despotic, order. You can't tell someone they have to shut up or remain in jail. The prosecutor who pushed for this and the judge who granted it should be fired immediately, for they are a menace to our rights and liberty.

What the judge ordered is known as a prior restraint of publication. This was precisely what the 1971 Pentagon Papers case was about. The New York Times started publishing excerpts from a secret, classified government history of the Vietnam War that showed how one administration after another lied to the public. The Nixon administration sought a court order to stop publication.

In his opinion as part of the 6-3 majority rejecting the Nixon Administration's request, Justice Hugo Black wrote:
[T]he injunction against the New York Times should have been vacated without oral argument when the cases were first presented ... . [E]very moment's continuance of the injunctions ... amounts to a flagrant, indefensible, and continuing violation of the First Amendment. ... In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. ... To find that the President has 'inherent power' to halt the publication of news ... would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make 'secure.'
And remember, that was the publication of classified government documents in wartime about a war that was still going on. And still the Supreme Court said you can't get an order to stop them from publishing, even if you might be able to charge and convict them of a criminal offense later for doing so. At the end of the day the Nixon administration decided it could not get away with prosecuting major newspapers, and focused instead of leaker Daniel Ellsberg.

It is unclear from the press reports whether Dickens is being charged under Georgia Code Title 16, Section 16-11-37, for "the offense of a terroristic threat" or under the following section, 16-11-37.1 "Dissemination of information relating to terroristic acts." My guess is both, and in keeping with the complete, utter incompetence of today's mainstream journalists, none of those covering the story figured it out.

At any rate, the second section, banning "information relating to terroristic acts" is clearly an unconstitutional law in violation of the First Amendment. It says: 
It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to furnish or disseminate through a computer or computer network any picture, photograph, drawing, or similar visual representation or verbal description of any information designed to encourage, solicit, or otherwise promote terroristic acts.
Why only through computers? Who knows.

The other section, on terroristic threats, applies only when there is a threat with intent to terrorize, like, for example, burning crosses on people's lawns.

Ms. Dickens's post was clearly an expression of anger and rage. But even if some twisted mind really believed that she intended to encourage people to shoot cops or do so herself, that would still be constitutionally protected speech. 

In the 1969 Brandenburg decision, the Supreme Court said: 
Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action" (emphasis added).
In addition, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that people have a right to speak anonymously:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation." (McIntyre v. Ohio, 1995)
Moreover, the United States has a tradition of anonymous speech older than the country itself. Like Thomas Paine, whose January, 1776, pamphlet "Common Sense," published with no name attached, is credited with playing a central role in sparking the American revolution. One historian described it as "the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era." Or the Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton and friends 12 years later under the collective pseudonym Publius that pushed through the adoption of the Constitution.

The suggestion that there is something wrong or sinister with using a pseudonym is downright Orwellian. That is an adjective derived from the last name of the author of the novel 1984, George Orwell. His real name was Eric Blair.

It is clear that the criminals here were the cops. There was a multi-jurisdictional interstate law-enforcement conspiracy to violate Ms. Dickens's constitutionally-protected rights, not just to express herself, but to do so anonymously. 

In addition to the dismissal of all charges against her, I hope there will be a civil suit and substantial financial penalties imposed on all the police agencies involved. This is important, not just to compensate Ms. Dickens for her ordeal and vindicate her rights, but also to counter the chilling effect of this police action and to dissuade the cops from ever pulling a stunt like this in the future.

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