There is an interesting case out of Minnesota where alleged gang member Antonio “Savage” Jenkins has been charged with terroristic threats against a police officer. The vehicle used for the alleged threats is rather novel: his arm. Jenkins’ posted a picture of his arm with a tattoo on Facebook that showed a pig with a gun in its mouth, wearing a uniform with a badge number and an officer’s name.
Jenkins is a known member of the Bloods street gang and was angry over an incident but the police say the officer was actually not part of the incident. The police officer saw the tattoo on Facebook and reported it to his superiors. Police says that Jenkins admitted that he knew the tattoo might prompt violence from others.
This presents an interesting example of “violent speech.” A tattoo is clearly a form of speech. Moreover, anti-police sentiments are a classic form of political speech. For that reason, the charge raises free speech implications despite the less than compelling content of the speech or the speaker. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Brandenburg v. Ohio that violent speech is protected by the Constitution if a violent act is not imminent. Saying that you wish someone was dead is a juvenile but all-too-common way of expressing profound hatred for views or conduct. You are allowed to pray for the murder of all abortion doctors or hated figures. Indeed, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson once called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Civil libertarians have long been concerned over the highly generalized language of these provisions. Here is the state provision:
609.713 TERRORISTIC THREATS.
Subdivision 1.Threaten violence; intent to terrorize. Whoever threatens, directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with purpose to terrorize another or to cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly, vehicle or facility of public transportation or otherwise to cause serious public inconvenience, or in a reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than five years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. As used in this subdivision, “crime of violence” has the meaning given “violent crime” in section 609.1095, subdivision 1, paragraph (d).
The fact that it includes a threat to cause “serious public inconvenience” is an example of breadth and vagueness of the crime. The question is whether this is an act of free speech or a criminal act. What do you think?
17 thoughts on “Minnesota Man Charged With Threatening Police Officer After Posting Tattoo on Facebook”
“Look at it this way. Make a picture such as this of the President or VP and post it, you should clear your appointment calendar for the indefinite future, because you WILL get a visit from some unsmiling gentlemen in dark suits.”
Except that that is a very specific federal law that applies to Federal office holders. It isn’t pertinent here. It doesn’t apply to the rest of us including the local Police, no matter how much they wish it did.
I’ll go with Prof. Turley here, by paraphrase and expansion: it’s not imminent and unless you can show it was a direct incitement with a direct resulting possibility of his inciting someone with the ability to carry out the message of the tat, it’s just free speech hurting feelings. The specificity has little bearing without proving my former. As for this “However, I think his status as a gang member makes the threat a little more likely to be acted upon.”, Rafflaw, it’s an easy assumption, but not any different than “I thought the cellphone was a gun”, the result being wrong, painfully so.
I could have a tat saying “eff my ex and kill her”, even name her, but I doubt we’d be arguing that tat unless she was killed. Even then, we’d argue about how nuts her killer was unless I intentionally and specifically incited him to do it. Otherwise, It’s just an expression of how much I loath her (I don’t, my ex was a really good woman and we parted amicably, but my wife today is so much better a woman and person that if we part it will probably be ugly because neither of us will deserve it.)
As for “terroristic threats”: I have this really pretty 17 year-old daughter, even sexy (as her father I’d like to wrap her in chainmail), and we were “acid-bombed” this summer by a couple of boys. “Acid-bombs” are actually chlorine compound reactions with aluminum, and really just make a loud noise but can damage if you are too close or breath the fumes (the reaction doesn’t go to completion and HCl vapor results). So, my wife got a good whiff and I had to report it. Police, Haz-mat, Fire Department, and three hours banned from my house from 12 midnight (trust me, I was really close to telling the Police to eff off as the bombs were in my yard not my house, and I did get pissy with them). Ultimately, I heard “terroristic threat” by device, and days later refused to charge the guys, making it quite plain I would not cooperate further. The detective from the bomb-squad was in tacit agreement with me as putting these two kids in jeopardy of 5 to 10 years in prison was just an outrage and an insult to justice. Good kids doing stupid. Terroristic threats, BS. Another law to make criminals.
All of you (not OS),
Really, it’s because he’s a gangbanger. Just admit it and move on.
I agree with the prosecution on this one. It would be one thing of the man tattooed his back and always wore a shirt not conveying his beliefs to others. But, to post this tattoo on a website is no different than making a sign with a pen, photographing it, and then putting the photograph on a social media website.
The social media site is intrinsicly a public forum. No private passwords are required to access this man’s site.
The fact the media was a tattoo was novel but not outside the elements of the crime alleged.
Even when there is specific intent to be Tacky.
Much of free speech is very Tacky art … ask Alvarez who has been now been released from jail.
Oh my… Tacky art…..
The tattoo seems to be very specific; not only indicating the killing of a police officer, but via the badge number a specific officer within the local community. Importantly, the image is a tattoo. The permanence of a tattoo and the presumed conviction or emotion that it takes to choose to put one on one’s body makes the apparent threat more credible. Add to it that it is on the body of a member of a violent gang that has a history of confrontation with police and murders in general, then I think we have an issue.
Would it be acceptable if gang member Mr. X was saying repeatedly all day, everyday, year after year, to most everyone he meets that he is going to kill Mrs. Y, a person with whom he has had no interaction?
What OS said. The specificity is what makes it cross the line into threat.
JT wrote: “The fact that it includes a threat to cause “serious public inconvenience” is an example of breadth and vagueness of the crime. The question is whether this is an act of free speech or a criminal act. What do you think?”
What Nick S said.
Of course one could take the Petition The Government for Redress of Grievances Prong of the First Amendment and go to far. Like, yelling F/IRE! in a crowded Hall of Congress or if the guy put the tatoo on his prong and displayed it in publc. As with Word Press, everything in moderation, including moderation.
How, exactly, does a tattoo constitute a “threat”?
Iron Maiden released a single in 1980, “Sanctuary”, the cover art depicting the murder of Margaret Thatcher. The illustration art was deemed “tasteless” but was never considered a threat, and that was in England, a country that has always had ridiculous libel laws.
Back in the US, Suicidal Tendencies were reportedly “persuaded” (read: threatened) by the FBI to change the title of a song. Originally titled, “I Shot Reagan”, the song was relabelled “I Shot the Devil”. Other groups (e.g. NWA) have used words and titles that have caused controversy, but (AFAIK) no group has ever been charged for songs or albums, and no song has ever been shown to directly cause any murders.
Music has a far higher and far reaching public profile than any tattoo. So why is one person being targeted? Oh, wait, that’s why: he’s one person, and an easy target. Why would the pigs go after someone who has the money to defend himself?
Sounds like an act of stupidity….perfectly legal….:(
If it were a generic tattoo it would be one thing. But to target a specific officer by name and badge number takes it to another level. I agree with both the political speech and art argument, except for that single fact.
Look at it this way. Make a picture such as this of the President or VP and post it, you should clear your appointment calendar for the indefinite future, because you WILL get a visit from some unsmiling gentlemen in dark suits.
He is petitioning his government for redress of grievances. This is a Prong of the First Amendment. So, how does he posit the defense if he was not at the Halls of Congress showing his tatoo to one and all? Well, he cant always be in the Halls of Congress petitioning but maybe this Congressman attends the Piggly Wiggly and he will show him/her the tatoo there and make his complaint about the Pig to his Congressman. JT: you have to go past the mere free expression clause or Prong and get the facts to the igglyPay before the itichbay starts. The Right To Petition The Government For Redress of Grievances. His supporters should show up in court for his hearing with their own Tee Shirts with messages about police behavior. I would suggest Piggly Wiggly tee shirts with some changes.
Ridiculous. Demonize him all you want with the gang labels. It’s a bloody tattoo. Are they going to now compel him to remove it?
No one has the right to be protected from what their eyes see and ears hear. This is a child’s fantasy, the hallmark of an easily disturbed busy-body. Don’t like it? Stop trolling facebook looking for reasons to clutch the pearls and head for the fainting couch.
If cops want respect, as we have read over and over again here, they are going to have to earn it. This ain’t it, either.
A highly intelligent gang member here! I agree that the statute is too broad and that this is protected “speech”. However, I think his status as a gang member makes the threat a little more likely to be acted upon.
I think you could also make the case that a tattoo is art which provides a wide parameter of expression. Tattoo makers consider themselves artist. I personally dislike “ink” but to each their own.
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