To say that the environments of multiplayer lobbies and forums are hospitable is a laughable notion at best. It doesn’t matter if your game of choice is Call of Duty, Madden or League of Legends, aggressive trash talk is something that comes with the territory.
Nineteen-year-old League of Legends player Justin Carter was one such gamer, mouthing-off in a Facebook conversation. Only what he said has had him in prison. Since February.
“I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten
And watch the blood of the innocent rain down
And eat the beating heart of one of them.”
According to Carter’s father, Jack Carter, the comment was made in response to another player referring to him as mentally disturbed. He also pointed out that his son followed the blatantly crass statement with “lol” and “JK.”
Regardless of how sarcastic Carter’s comments may have been, the damage had been done and they had certainly been noticed. Following an anonymous tip from Canada, the Austin, Texas teenager was arrested for making a terroristic threat. He has since been in jail for five months (celebrating his 19th birthday behind bars), has been described as tormented and depressed and is currently in solitary confinement while on suicide watch.
Now let’s get something straight. Carter is only in prison because of a statement that he made that was absolutely done in poor taste and judgement without any regard for potential blowback or consequences. It is a statement that is shocking, deplorable and given the context, I don’t blame authorities for arresting the misguided teen for even composing the thought in his head.
With that said, I feel that ultimately the punishment does not reflect the crime, nor does it reflect the individual. Allegedly, police investigations turned up no evidence of Carter planning any sort of attack on a school, recovered zero weapons and all signs pointed to an immature kid who let his poor sense of humor loose in a public forum. In my mind, after a thorough investigation, Carter should have been released into the custody of his parents and been let off with a warning to consider the repercussions that statements like his carry, even in jest. If they wished to continue down the path of terroristic threatening, which it can easily be perceived as, I somehow wonder how a kid with no criminal background and no signs of ill will (save his twisted sense of humor) warrant a bail set at $500,000.
Ultimately, I see this case heading down precisely that road. A bit of a witch hunt on a kid that wrote what so many others have said under their misconception of the internet’s veil of anonymity (despite having names plastered all over Facebook) who will ultimately be punished for time served and used as an example as to statements like that can’t be made.
You see, as much as Americans believe they have a the constitutional right to free speech and free expression (something I hold very dear to my beliefs), such freedoms still have rules and exceptions relating to them, particularly as they relate to public safety. Especially in the wake of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, I seriously doubt that anybody in the criminal justice system would be the one who let a potential shooting spree killer loose on the world. This explains why such a hard stance was taken against Carter, and why he holds a bail of $500,000.
For as much as an individual is allowed to say whatever they want, the government is allowed to assess whether such a statement will be allowed to mesh with the body they govern. Similarly, opinions are met with counterpoints, aggression is met with defensive attitudes and every action will have a weighty repercussion. It’s just the way things work.
It is not perfect, but rules like the ones that put Justin Carter in jail exist to protect everyone, not just the individual. We are constantly searching for ways to prevent events like the tragic shootings of Sandy Hook and Columbine from occuring. Carter’s case could have easily gone in a different direction. Maybe a person like him makes a similar statement and slips through the system simply because they ROFL J/K. You just simply can’t make a statement like that blindly and expect there to be zero collateral damage. It is exactly why you can’t shout fire in a movie theater. It causes panic and puts people in danger.
Should Justin Carter be found innocent on what appears to be an incredulous case of over-reacting? Absolutely. But he should have had the wherewithal to never even dreamed up the sentence in the first place.