Last weekend, Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot two New York Police Department (NYPD) officers while they were sitting in their police cruiser in Brooklyn. Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were killed by the 28-year-old Brinsley. Earlier that day, he had posted a picture of a gun on his Instagram account, along with the words, "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours...let's take 2 of theirs." Police in Maryland passed the warning on to New York police, but the information came through too late to alert the officers.
Since the shooting deaths of the two NYPD officers, law enforcement around the country have been on high alert. Police departments are worried about copycat-type actions taken against police officers. The heightened awareness of threats against police put police in Chicopee, Massachusetts on to the trail of a local man who had his piece to say about his distaste for cops.
Police will now seek charges against 27-year-old Charles DiRosa related to posts he made on his Facebook page. DiRosa posted, "Put Wings on Pigs," on his social media page, a term which can be slang for "killing a police officer." The post came just two days after Brinsley's similar online posting. DiRosa will now face charges of criminal threats. Threats to commit a crime can carry a penalty of six months in prison.
According to Michael Wilk, a spokesman for Chicopee police, DiRosa's post is a threat "in the eyes of every police officer in America today." Especially in light of the events of the past few days. DiRosa has not yet been arrested, and he has not yet responded to the possible charges against him. However, a recent Supreme Court Case may have some impact on how his case could be impacted.
As we reported on recently, the Supreme Court heard a case that may affect where we draw the line between free speech and criminal threats. That case involved a man posting Facebook comments of violent threats to killing his ex-wife and an FBI agent. That man claimed he was blowing off steam, and never meant to frighten his ex-wife. The Justices have yet to rule, but their comments suggest they did not agree that his posts were protected free speech. Will DiRosa make a similar claim that he was blowing off steam?
On a similar issue, the State Supreme Judicial Court has just ruled that cyber-harassment is not free speech. In a case involving property disputes, Andover real estate developers the Johnsons' were convicted for posing fake information online to harass neighbors. The postings included fake ads including the victims' phone numbers and address, allegedly selling of giving away golf carts, motorcycles, and other property.
The court's 33- page decision upheld the conviction. While the Johnsons argued that they did not commit harassment because they did not engage in "fighting words," but the court found that their action were a hybrid of conduct and speech, solely to harass the victims, threatening to misuse personal information, and falsely accusing one victim of a serious crime.