Justin Carter is, according to Texas law enforcement, somebody who should be convicted of a crime and sent to jail for several years. Justin Carter is a threat, according to Texas law enforcement. Their basis for this? A Facebook joke.
Essentially, Carter stands accused of making a “terroristic threat.” And, what, precisely, was this “terroristic threat?” Joking around on Facebook that he was, like, totally nuts you guys.
According to court documents, police allege that he posted, “I’m [expletive] in the head alright. I’ma 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 family and lawyer, the comment was a sarcastic response to a comment by another Facebook poster.
Somebody saw this, sent it to the local police as a tip, and Carter was promptly arrested. His bail was set at $500,000, five times what’s generally set as bail for people who are actually accused of murder.
The key takeaway from far too many opinion pieces on this are “Well, he shouldn’t have said those things on Facebook.” And that’s almost as horrifying as the case itself. The only crime Justin Carter is actually guilty of is offending somebody too stupid to realize teenage boys make tasteless jokes.
There was literally no reason whatsoever to arrest Carter. He has no criminal record. He has no history of violence or mental illness. He may not even have had access to firearms. While there is no actual “profile” of a school shooter, there are plenty of indications beforehand that a person might be planning a large-scale act of violence. There is no evidence Carter fulfilled any of these criteria. And under Texas’ own laws, Carter didn’t commit any crime, as he didn’t make the joke about a school or other organization, didn’t send it to one, and didn’t make it with the intent cited in the law.
It’s true that law enforcement has to make judgement calls, and we shouldn’t armchair quarterback, but in truth, this was not a hard judgement call to make. There was nothing stopping anybody from knocking on Justin Carter’s door, sitting down with him and his parents, and explaining that what he was doing was scaring the crap out of people and to knock it off. Somebody, at some level, chose to arrest him because it was easier, or they didn’t understand sarcasm, or just because they could.
We don’t live in a country where people can be thrown in jail and find themselves staring at a jail sentence for making crappy jokes. That’s not how it works in a free and fair society. And considering some other stories of the Texas justice system, it raises an uncomfortable question: How many Justin Carters might be in penal systems in Texas, or across the country, that we don’t know about?