All Threats Matter: The Selective Prosecution of Violent Speech

In 1989, Ice-T made an album titled Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say! That has always been true for black people in America. Guarding our true feelings about white supremacy was a necessary survival tactic during slavery and Jim Crow that has carried over into employment and social life.

Historically, the only black people able to stretch the boundaries of acceptable speech have been artists and comedians. They had the tools and the talent to couch biting attacks on the power structure's hypocrisy with a melody or a joke. While their oppressors took pleasure in being entertained on one level, black consumers got the hidden messages on another.

Social media has removed that creative screen, and often what gets put out into the larger world is the raw, emotional, uncensored opinions of upset people. In the wake of seemingly endless killings of African-Americans by police, black people go to Facebook and Twitter to vent their rage. Reactions by most white americans to what they read there range from shock and surprise, to disregard of the points being made, along with insults of the people making them. Beyond internet shouting matches, these exchanges rarely go any further. Lately however, the reactions have been much more serious.

Back in April, a woman named Ebony Dickens from East Point, Georgia was arrested for posting on Facebook a threat to kill white police officers. In August, Carlos Hollins of La Plata, Maryland was arrested for posting similar sentiments on Twitter.

Let's compare the official response to those expressions of free speech with the response to that of Nathan Ener, a former Texas prison guard who has admitted on record that he enjoyed beating prisoners. After the killing of Texas Deputy Darren Goforth, he made a video where he held a shotgun and threatened to hunt and kill members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Nathan Ener is still free to walk the streets of Texas. Why does he get to make violent threats and others do not?

It makes me wonder, who decides what constitutes a credible threat? Who in law enforcement looks at a video of a man wielding a shotgun, openly admitting that he plans to kill activists and decides that he's harmless, but that words on a website are worthy of the posters being jailed? I think these selective arrests are part of an attempt to silence any voices of Black dissent. Right-wing media sources are already attempting to mislabel the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group and frame any act of violence involving a Black attacker and a white victim as part of a larger conspiracy, yet those same news sources are silent about the very real danger from homegrown white supremacist terrorist organizations.

The FBI has data from 2006 proving that members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations were infiltrating American police departments, but just how deep does that go? Deep enough for sympathizers to actively target online anti-police threats while ignoring white supremacist ones?

The efforts of Black Lives Matter protesters have forced a long overdue conversation about entrenched brutality and racism in American policing. It seems like opponents are using a handful of unfortunately worded expressions of black anger to avoid -- or destroy -- the discussion.