The following contains editorial content written by a current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today.
FAIRFIELD, CT – A 16-year-old high school student was arrested for allegedly taking a photo of the back of a black classmate earlier in May and captioning the photo with both a racial slur and generally racist comments.
What makes the case so unique is that a controversial law, one unique to Connecticut and over 100 years old, is being used to prosecute the juvenile. The law makes it illegal to ridicule an individual based upon things like race or religion.
— Fox12Oregon (@fox12oregon) May 23, 2021
On May 7th, an unnamed 16-year-old student of Fairfield Warde High School had taken a photo of a fellow classmate, 16-year-old Jamar Medor, inside of their homeroom and allegedly captioned this Snapchat photo with the following:
“Why is this n****r in my homeroom?
“Why is he not in chains?”
Reports indicate that the 16-year-old student that took this photo and made the aforementioned captions to the photo is a white student, while Medor is black.
Obviously, the captions accompanied with the photo of Medor is being reasonably construed as racist.
But this unnamed juvenile is dealing with more than just the ramifications from school-levied discipline, and is now dealing with the criminal justice system.
The juvenile who allegedly took this photo and put it on Snapchat has been charged with “second degree breach of peace” which is a Class B misdemeanor and also “ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race,” which is a Class D misdemeanor in Connecticut.
The law surrounding second degree breach of peace in Connecticut is a misdemeanor that has a lot of wiggle room in terms of what it could potentially be applied to, as the law is written as follows:
“(a) A person is guilty of breach of the peace in the second degree when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, such person:
(1) Engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior in a public place; or
(2) assaults or strikes another; or
(3) threatens to commit any crime against another person or such other person’s property; or
(4) publicly exhibits, distributes, posts up or advertises any offensive, indecent or abusive matter concerning any person; or
(5) in a public place, uses abusive or obscene language or makes an obscene gesture; or
(6) creates a public and hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which such person is not licensed or privileged to do. For purposes of this section, “public place” means any area that is used or held out for use by the public whether owned or operated by public or private interests.”
As seen in the text of the law relating to second degree breach of peace, since the juvenile allegedly engaged in what could be considered an “offensive, indecent or abusive matter concerning any person,” it seems as though this law is being appropriately applied in the given context.
But frankly, sections (4) and (5) of Connecticut’s “breach of peace” law is just as Constitutionally questionable as the second charge levied against the teen.
Namely, the Connecticut law pertaining to “ridicule.”
Even the ACLU is voicing concerns over this teen’s arrest over the charge of “ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race,” with ACLU senior staff attorney Emerson Sykes citing issues regarding the First Amendment:
“Having racist ideas or sharing racist ideas is something that we actually protect. Even if that viewpoint is offensive, even if it’s deplorable, we don’t want the government making the call about what’s OK to say and think and what is not. But we have limitations on that right.”
Sykes also pointed out that he doesn’t take issue if the school is handing any type of discipline against the student, considering that the incident did happen allegedly on school property.
The child was reportedly already expelled from school regarding the Snapchat post.
According to Connecticut law, the law regarding “ridicule” is as follows:
“Any person who, by his advertisement, ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons, shall be guilty of a class D misdemeanor.”
Now this law came into existence back in 1917, and the plain language brings into question whether or not it was a law intentionally crafted to address possible commercial or political advertisements.
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But according to a 2018 report from Reason, an examination of this particular statute in Connecticut found that it’s typically used in instances where somebody says something that is racially insensitive.
"“Racial Ridicule” Is a Crime in Connecticut — and People Are Being Prosecuted" https://t.co/aGjQkUxW51
— Robert VerBruggen (@RAVerBruggen) August 7, 2018
However, it’s troubling that this statute is being levied against the teen because, while what the juvenile allegedly wrote is plainly racist, it’s also unconstitutional to suppress any sort of speech based solely upon its content and or viewpoint.
Of course some might say the First Amendment has limitations, which it does. But, the allegations outlined within the criminal complaint lodged against the juvenile for what he allegedly wrote on Snapchat does not fit within the confines of these narrow limitations of the First Amendment
Prime examples of what are genuine First Amendment limitations are things like criminal incitement, false statement of fact, obscenity (the Miller test relates specifically to certain kinds of pornography), and what the courts deem to be “fighting words.”
There are of course other nuanced instances of limitations on the First Amendment, but again the Constitution has not been interpreted to limit types of speech in the context it was allegedly used in that Snapchat post by the teen.
The reason why this particular case doesn’t fit into the confines of perhaps what some might consider to be “fighting words” is because the teen allegedly took the photo of the black 16-year-old classmate without the classmate’s knowledge and captioned it, then presumably only sharing it with whomever his group of followers are online.
As reported by CNN regarding the incident, Jamar Medor only learned of the racist Snapchat post after another classmate showed him a picture of the alleged post:
“Jamar didn’t even know about the Snapchat post until a classmate brought it to his attention, his mother told CNN Thursday.”
This means, in a legal sense, that this particular case can’t even be construed as “fighting words” if someone attempted to justify the application of this frankly unconstitutional law that exists in Connecticut.
The fact that this law hasn’t been reasonably challenged before based upon it being used as a means of government enabled viewpoint criminalization is concerning.
Hopefully, while the teen’s alleged social media post is extremely distasteful, this case gets thrown out and results in this law in Connecticut getting repealed.
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