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We are living in the last gasp of free human thought, right here and right now.
The first time this happened, I thought it was an isolated incident, brought about by a handful of foolish, showy Dudley-do-rights; but yet another student has been arrested and charged with a felony for putting a violent thought to paper, and that means a trend. According to a Lexington, Kentucky NBC affiliate, LEX 18, police apprehended 18-year-old William Poole, whose grandparents found a story in his journal about a high school being overrun by zombies and called authorities. Poole did not name his high school specifically in his story, nor did he name any of his classmates, his principal, or any other real-life figures.
Nonetheless, he has been branded a dangerous criminal. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function, it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill. A felonywhich means pretty much screwing your chances of getting meaningful employment for the rest of your life if you are convicted. Back in my day, something like this could have been handled with a stern talking-to or maybe a paddling if you were really lucky.
We all know that free speech has, of course, never been absolute. Armchair constitutional scholars will always invoke the "yelling fire in a crowded theater" example to explain its limits. But that is action. You are inciting the stampede out of the theater. When you draw or write fiction about people being hurt or killed, you are not breaching the sacred trust of the holy First Amendment. You are Stephen Fucking King.
The other incident along these lines was in Ocala, Florida in January, where two Special Education students, ages 9 and 10, were arrested for making stick figure drawings of their classmates being hung and stabbed. It was done for the express purpose of intimidating the classmates, so it was definitely a serious situation and disciplinary action should definitely have been taken. But is it felonious? Is it fair to give these kids handcuffs and a record for a drawing? I was shocked when I saw this story on CNN, and even more shocked when I saw how many holier-than-thou Americans wrote in and said they supported the decision to arrest them. And even more shocked when I thought about all of the people that had to come into agreement for this shit to happen in the first place. I think that about a lot of things, really.
All of you know some crazy but passionately imaginative kid from your youth who used to design these elaborate blueprints for obstacle courses with swinging razor blades and automated machine guns. The kid who wore the "Mercenaries Never Die" T-shirt and had the entire G.I. Joe collection. He ended up turning out all right, didn't he? And did he pick up a piece and start blowing away your classmates? Hell no. This is boys being boys, and you take the opportunity to show them the error of their ways when they are young and weak so that you don't have these kinds of incidents when they are older and have been jilted by the tides of humanity. You show them toughness but you are at the same time mercifulevery new, unshaped mind should have plenty of chances to reform before it reaches adulthood. It's what being a kid is about. When kids start breaking into houses, or throwing rocks at people's heads, then you arrest them.
Here's the scary part. In recent history, the more adults have become detached from the needs of children, the harsher the penalties have become for disobedience, which is probably, and quite ironically, caused by this very detachment. Maybe I'm a little bit skittish, but these extreme penalties for having violent thoughts are blowing the opportunities wide open for the next Attila the Hun to come to power. Once we establish that people can be jailed for their imagination alone, we extend our chic doctrine of pre-emption to our domestic policy, not just the foreign. It means that whatever current government exists increasingly has the power to remove unright-thinking citizens from the public on a whim, if they can find one shred of violent behavior anywhere in the historical archives of a person's writing. They don't even need a trial. And if I lost credibility with that paragraph, remember that Hitler came to power on a martial law loophole established by a previous government.
As we continue to see the walls closing around our freedoms, it is ever more important to keep the ball in the air when things like this happen, express our foul disgust, and verbally smack around the nimrods responsible. I don't want to live in the kind of sterilized Demolition Man world that so many law enforcement rising stars and tight-assed advocacy groups have planned for the rest of us.
If I may wax nostalgic... What's really funny is that the way I met the editor of IMPACT was when I submitted a story to our college paper of which he was the entertainment editor. In that story, I pretty much snap and blow the hell out of every person I didn't like at my grocery store. It was all in good fun. Looking back, it was probably grounds for a lawsuit since I mentioned the company. But that was 1994. Now, I would be thrown in jail with heroin addicts who would violate me rectally. In fact, maybe I shouldn't be telling you this. But there's probably a statute of limitations that has expired.
Well, you know what? I have a story to tell you right now. I went to this random high school once and I saw a zombie. And it was eating someone's head. So I blew it away. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, you soulless, reactionary local government whack-jobs.
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