On the one hand, it could be argued that kids will be kids and that the mother in this case overreacted. On the other, it could be observed that young people need to learn the limits of acceptable behavior, especially in these emotionally charged times.
Knowing the line between a tasteful joke and one likely to raise hackles might have spared an Austin teen named Justin Carter from spending the past four months in jail and facing the prospect of the next eight years in a federal prison.
Justin’s problems started in March when police showed up at his door. A month earlier, he had been playing “League of Legends,” an online, multiplayer fantasy game, when a fellow gamer wrote, “You’re insane, you’re crazy, you’re messed up in the head.” Justin responded:
Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts.
He followed the comment with the acronyms LOL and JK, computerspeak for “laughing out loud” and “just kidding” respectively. But a Canadian mother who saw the comment wasn’t laughing. She tracked down Justin’s address and phoned the Austin police. A month later, he was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat.
“These people are serious,” Justin’s father, Jack Carter, told Houston station KHOU. “They really want my son to go away to jail for a sarcastic comment that he made.”
[A video capture of the news segment can be viewed here.]
The elder Carter is right. The authorities fully intend to make an example of the boy, who recently celebrated his 19th birthday from his cell. “In light of recent situations, a police detective said, referring to the Newtown shootings, “statements such as the one Justin made are taken seriously.”
Justin’s parents are not taking the situation lying down. They have launched a petition to convince Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot to release their son.
“Release Justin Carter from jail,” it reads. “Too many teenagers are being arrested, jailed and having their lives forever altered because of anti-terrorism laws and investigations that impede their 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech.”
A hearing to review Carter’s case is scheduled for July 1.
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