| By Kelly OConnell Monday, April 2, 2012
The recent tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin understandably stirred up great debate over self-defense laws, citizen patrols, gun rights, and racial profiling. But despite the fact that the actual details of the case are still in dispute, several celebrities have called for a vigilante response. The question here is whether the right of Free Speech would protect these actions. The answer is, according to the US Supreme Court in the seminal case Brandenburg v. Ohio, Free Speech rights do not protect persons from words bringing harm to others. This is the topic of this essay, which suggests the USDOJ consider prosecuting these persons before the innocent are hunted down and murdered in the name of celebrity justice.
I. Trayvon Martin Case
The Trayvon Martin case involved a juvenile Florida Black teen shot and killed under disputed circumstances by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman on 2/26/2012. What exactly occurred that night in Zimmerman’s Sanford, FL housing tract is still not clear. Some believe Zimmerman a racist murderer, while others believe Martin caused him to defend himself with deadly force. The tragedy sparked a firestormregarding the issues of race, crime, and self-protection in America.
II. Acts of Inciting Violence: Lee, Barr & Sharpton
Various persons have demanded justice in the Martin case, including the New Black Panthers, and various blithering celebrities, all demanding a vigilantism. Consider the following.
A. Spike Lee
Director Spike Lee sent out a tweet to his quarter-million followers purporting to contain the address of Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman, along with the message, “Reach out and touch him.” It was the wrong address, and the terrified elderly owners at the wrong address fled for their lives. Lee apologized for his mistake,offering cash to make up for the error. But what was he trying to achieve? What did he believe the likely outcome of his tweet would be had it contained the correct address? Was this not an attempt to enable vigilantism? Shouldn’t Lee be punished for such an evil deed? Reports Smoking Gun:
With the Internet exploding with posts purporting to contain George Zimmerman’s address, the home address is actually the longtime residence of a married Florida couple, both in their 70s, with no connection to the man who killed Trayvon Martin and are now living in fear due to erroneous reports about their connection to the shooter. The mass dissemination of the address on Edgewater Circle in Sanford—the Florida city where Martin was shot to death last month—took flight last Friday when director Spike Lee retweeted a tweet containing Zimmerman’s purported address to his 240,000 followers.
B. Roseanne Barr
TV star Roseanne Barr tweeted personal information of George Zimmerman. She gave the actual address of his parents to her fans. But why? First of all, what did Barr, granddaughter of European Jewish immigrants, believe would be the logical outcome of George Zimmerman’s angry critics securing his parent’s address? Further, even if one believed in vigilantism, how are Zimmerman’s parents responsible for their son’s deeds? Smoking Gun reports,
Comedian Roseanne Barr last night tweeted the home address of George Zimmerman’s parents to her 110,000-plus Twitter followers, only to delete the posting after “not fully understanding that it was private not public.” There is no indication that Zimmerman, who is reportedly in hiding, is holed up in his parents’s residence. Barr stated, “I thought it was good to let ppl know you can’t hide anymore...&...If Zimmerman isn’t arrested I’ll rt his address again…maybe go 2 his house myself.”
This is not the first time Barr used social media to express contempt. For example, she recently claimed Kirk Cameron was inciting murder for opposing gay marriage, writing “kirk or kurt or whatever cameron is an accomplice to murder with his hate speech.” The Marxist entertainer without a degree and advocate of Communist reeducation camps, is worth an estimated $80 million. She also recommends beheading the wealthy (video), stating:
I first would allow guilty bankers to pay…back anything over 100 million in personal wealth because I believe in a maximum wage of 100 million dollars and if they’re unable to live on that amount then they should go to the reeducation camps, and if that doesn’t help, then be beheaded.
C. Al Sharpton
MSNBC host and racial relations commentator “Rev” Al Sharpton, who first became prominent during the Tawana Brawley case, recently demanded vigilantism in the Trayvon Martin tragedy. The Orlando Sentinel stated,
If George Zimmerman is not arrested in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin soon, the Rev. Al Sharpton will call for an escalation in peaceful civil disobedience and economic sanctions. “I will speak about how the National Action Network will move to the next level if Zimmerman isn’t arrested,” said Sharpton, who founded the Network.
Did it ever occur to Sharpton that his followers might take the law into their own hands to deliver “justice” to Zimmerman, his friends or family? Of course, Sharpton is not one to amend his actions, right or wrong. Because, despite the fact the Brawley case was proved an utter hoax, destroying many innocent lives, Sharpton has never apologized, despite losing a defamation trial. In fact, without the Brawley hoax, no one would have ever heard of Sharpton. Recalls the Economist about the defamation trial,
“We stated openly Steven Pagones did it. If we’re lying, sue us, so we can go into court and prove it.” (Al Sharpton) It was inevitable Al Sharpton’s mouth would eventually get him into trouble; inevitable too the Tawana Brawley affair, where a young black girl claimed she was raped by a gang of white men and left in a rubbish bag, would come back to haunt both Sharpton & New York. On July 13th an upstate New York jury found seven statements by Sharpton defamatory.
D. Black Panther $10,000 Reward
Ratcheting up the drama, one group has offered a significant reward for George Zimmerman, according to the Global Post:
The New Black Panther Party today offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. The group also called for 5,000 black men to mobilize and search for Zimmerman, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. ... If the government won’t do the job, we’ll do it,” NBPP leader Mikhail Muhammad said.
III. Law on Inciting Hatred & Violence: Brandenburg v. Ohio
The question is whether the above described acts could be charged as crimes. Most crime in America is prosecuted where it happens, within state jurisdiction. But with today’s frequent use of Internet and multi-media electronic communications, prosecutors are willing to use creative means to punish interstate evil-doing. (Details of intricacies prosecuting threats via communications systems analyzed here)
These acts occurred across state lines. Either state or federal law could theoretically address the issue. Most states have laws against Inciting Violence as well as against Hate Crimes. In theory, Florida could prosecute Lee, Barr, Sharpton, or the NBPP with state law given they communicated their messages into Florida. RICO statutes could be used against the New Black Panthers, too. This situation is complicated by Free Speech laws and the fact that the actions happened between states. But there could still be a prosecution for all parties involved.
A. Brandenburg v. Ohio
Brandenburg v. Ohio is the quintessential case regarding incitement of violence through words. This case sets the standard for whether bigoted speech crosses the line into illegality (summary):
The Court used a two-pronged test to evaluate speech acts: (1) speech can be prohibited if it is “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) it is “likely to incite or produce such action.”
B. Analysis of Criminal Incitement in Martin Case
These celebrity’s communications became illegal when they knew their words would quite likely lead to violence. In fact, demand for justice where widespread complaints were made that no justice occurred was their chief motivation.
According to the test in Brandenburg, (1) speech can be prohibited if it is “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) it is “likely to incite or produce such action.” Clearly, the motivation for all of these communications was to evoke a response from the public. These people knew the reaction could easily become violent, if not deadly. In fact, in the case of Spike Lee, he demanded, “Reach out and touch him.”
These entertainers didn’t need to demand that violence be done, just merely knowing their gratuitous acts would make it much more likely that imminent lawless actions would occur as a direct result of their communications.
These actions could violate the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Law, 18 U.S.C. ¬ß 245(b)(2), allowing federal prosecution of persons who “willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person’s race, color, religion or national origin.” Arguably, Zimmerman was targeted as a non-Black, having killed a Black person. For if it were a Black-on-Black crime would it have made the papers? Also, why not consider prosecuting NBC under the same law for wilfully editing to distort Zimmerman’s police call to make him sound racist?
Further, why not consider prosecuting the New Black Panthers with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO)? One could argue NBPP’s offer of $10,000 was an interstate bounty which could be prosecuted by the feds as a type of illegal commerce.
IV. Obama Administration’s Failure to Promote Rule of Law
Where is Barack Obama’s outrage—regarding the New Black Panthers $10,000 reward for George Zimmerman, after injecting himself personally into the affair? Is he really confused enough to think that if he were to condemn this private bounty that it would imperil his re-election campaign?
Again, where is Eric Holder’s DOJ to condemn these actions? Instead, absolutely insane race-driven policies, such as refusing to prosecute Black Panthers for voter fraud, stand out. That is why this administration has no credibility. Did Obama even attempt to follow through on his promises to craft a post-partisan administration? How can this White House not be remembered as the most biased and politicized in American history?
Reports the WA Times on Rep. Allen West’s response to the NBPP bounty:
I vehemently condemn the bounty poster emanating from the New Black Panther Party putting a $10,000 ransom up for the capture of George Zimmerman and call upon the US Department of Justice to prosecute their actions, clearly a hate crime. We have seen this type of abhorrent behavior from this group previously in 2008 as part of a voter intimidation action, it is reprehensible. To openly solicit for the death of an American citizen, with reward, is not in keeping with the laws of due process which governs this Constitutional Republic.
The greatness of America came from developing new standards for the rules and rectitude of elected officials. Chief was the creation of the first modern Constitution and our separation of powers. These ideas undergird the fundamental foundation of America’s theory of government—the Rule of Law. America’s beauty rests on the notion that no man shall be above the law, but the law shall be above all men. Unfortunately, Obama’s great failure was to forget this most fundamental American conviction.