When defending the liberty of unsavory characters, I usually write of my native England. Not this week, alas. In the state of Texas, a 19-year-old man named Justin Carter sits in prison, ruthlessly stripped of his freedom for making an offensive joke. After a Facebook friend with whom he played video games described him as “crazy” and “messed up in the head,” Carter replied — sarcastically, one imagines — “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 added “lol” and “jk” for good measure. For this he was arrested, charged with making a “terroristic threat,” and thrown into prison. He may languish there until the start of the next decade.
Carter’s joke was witless and flippant — typical, in other words, of late-teenaged men. By no means was it criminal. Nevertheless, a woman in Canada, who inexactly described herself as a “concerned citizen,” saw from afar what Carter had written and shopped him to Texas police. Police acquiesced to her request, searching the family’s house in the process — and finding nothing. “They really want my son to go away to jail for a sarcastic comment that he made,” Jack Carter, the boy’s father, said. Apparently so: He’s been incarcerated since March without trial.