What separates us from the Islamofascists, we're told, is that we support free expression and they don't. They get violently exercised by cartoons; we're above that.
Yeah, about that . . .
The Renton, Washington Police Department and Renton Chief Prosecutor Shawn Arthur aren't breaking windows or throwing firebombs or stoning anyone. At least not yet. However, they are using a kind of violence — the coercive power of the state — to retaliate against a cartoonist. Their methods may not involve overt force, but their motives are repugnant to American values of freedom of expression.
KIRO investigative reporter Chris Halsne broke the story. He learned that the Renton P.D. is butthurt over a series of YouTube animated cartoons poking fun at issues in their ranks — including, apparently, officers having "dating relationships" with suspects. The videos — apparently created on xtranormal.com — have unidentified cops and city officials engaging in discussions lampooning departmental scandals.
In America, that's no harm, no foul, right? We have a First Amendment. You can make fun of people, even if it hurts their feelings. You can speak, forcefully and satirically, about the conduct of government business. If you make false statements about someone, you might be in for a libel suit, but you're not going to go to jail for cartoons in America, right?
Well, there's America, and there's Shawn Arthur's Renton.
Now, cops will want to do stupid, stupid, lawless things. Prosecutors are supposed to exercise some judgment and haul them back from the precipice of unconstitutional thuggery. But some prosecutors — because they're political hacks who owe their position to the police, because they're strictly fourth-rate lawyers, or because they're thugs themselves — fail to provide that check and balance. Renton Chief Prosecutor Shawn Arthur is such a lawyer. He sought and obtained a a search warrant directed at Google to find the identity of the author of the YouTube videos, using the pretext that the Washington state law against "cyberstalking." That ludicrously overbroad law provides as follows:
(1) A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party:
(a) Using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act;
(b) Anonymously or repeatedly whether or not conversation occurs; or
(c) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household.
Shawn Arthur and his affiant, Renton Police Officer Ryan Rutledge, asserts that the cartoonist, by his cartoons, has violated this section by using lewd and indecent words with intent to embarrass officers of the Renton Police Department:
It is my belief that the targets made in these videos target specific members of the City of Renton and Renton Police Department with the intent to embarrass and emotionally torment the victims by use of electronic communications to such persons or to a third party.
Perhaps the City of Renton and the Renton Police Department is made up of weepy weaklings who are easily hurt and tormented. If so, perhaps they should move to Canada. I understand they're quite solicitous of hurt feelings there.
But wait, you say. Cops will be cops, and hack lawyers will hack lawyers, but what about the judiciary? Surely no judge will sign a search warrant based on a theory that so patently violates the First Amendment?
Isn't it pretty to think so. But meet Kings County Judge James D. Cayce, who rubberstamped a search warrant seeking to unveil a cartoonist on the theory that be committed "cyberstalking" by posting cartoons making fun of police officers and city officials. That, in my experience, is how state judges act. They are no bulwark at all.
I'll watch this case from here. Will Google fight evil and challenge this search warrant? If not, will Shawn Arthur attempt to bring charges against the cartoonist? Does he realize that though he has absolute immunity for lawless prosecutions, he does not have absolute immunity for seeking a search warrant based on protected expression? Time will tell.
For now, thanks to the Streisand Effect, Shawn Arthur and Ryan Rutledge have assured that many thousands more viewers will enjoy the cartoons about their police department than would have without their censorious crusade.
It occurs to me that, in this post, I have, with the intent to embarrass censorious and thuggish public officials, used obscene language to make electronic communications to them or to third parties. Under their ludicrously unconstitutional interpretation of Washington's silly statute, I am guilty of a crime.
Come get me, fuckers.
Hat tip to Balko.
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