Art or crime?
Students who make death threats face expulsion and prosecution, but what if they’re just writing fiction or “dark poetry” or drawing a picture to express angry emotions? Is it art? The Los Angeles Times writes about cases in San Jose and elsewhere:
The poem, called “Faces,” ended with these lines:
“For I can be the next kid to bring guns to kill students at school. So parents watch your children cuz I’m back!!”
The boy, identified in court records only as George Julius T., had no history of violence and wrote “Faces” at a time when his family was broke and living with an uncle. But a Juvenile Court judge decided that the poem amounted to a criminal threat, a felony, and the boy served four months in juvenile hall.
Haunted by school shootings, teachers, principals and law enforcement officials are scrutinizing students’ creative work as never before. They are punishing, expelling and sometimes prosecuting young people whose stories, poetry or art evoke violence.
George’s case, now before the California Supreme Court, is one of several across the nation that have vexed judges, forcing them to decide when artistic expression becomes criminal intimidation, and whether a poem or painting is a portent of mayhem or an innocent reaction to the violence that students see around them.
Eugene Volokh calls this a “tough and interesting” question. I think violent imagery should be taken as a plea for help, not as a threat. Yes, George is scary. He may be too scary to attend a regular school without being a disruption to teachers and classmates. But he’s not a criminal. He’s a mixed-up kid who needs counseling on how to deal with his anger.