Charles DiRosa, 27, has been criminally charged in Chicopee, Massachusetts after he posted “Put Wings on Pigs” to Facebook. It was a despicable act after the murder of two New York police officers, but in my view it was protected speech.
Before murdering the two officers, Ismaaiyl Brinsley posted a statement that “I’m putting wings on pigs today” on social media.
Chicopee said that DiRosa’s posting was taken as a threat “in the eyes of every police officer in America today.” He has been summoned to court for Threat To Commit a Crime. In my view, the charge should be tossed and a serious review taken of the decision to pursue DiRosa for the exercise of free speech.
It has been very hard to watch the protesters who have chanted “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!”:
Likewise, people Jayceon Taylor aka the popular “Rapper The Game”, posted a taunting message on Instagram and Twitter for his over one million followers showing a picture of police officers and saying “I guess y’all ‘can’t breathe’ either.” After an outcry, he later insisted that he was responding to the officers wearing “I Can Breathe” shirts and “I didn’t say it was cool that. . . ”
Well it is not cool but it is also not criminal.
DiRosa can and should be denounced for this type of rhetoric but it is rhetoric. It is speech. As I noted recently in calls for Michael Brown’s stepfather to be prosecuted, such speech is protected not because of its value but because of the cost of allowing a government to choose what speech will be allow and what speech will be criminalized. Violent speech is protected under the Constitution absent such a threat of imminent violence. I have previously written about the dangerous line of criminalizing speech. I currently have a case going before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on this issue in United States v. Al-Timimi.
If DiRosa is being charged solely for the use of this phrase, he has a strong constitutional claim. There is nothing in the media coverage suggesting that he took any concrete action or went beyond posting this hateful message.