Jamie's Blog

Friday, April 27, 2007

Student arrested after writing violent essay that "disturbed" his teacher

Allen Lee, a high school student in Cary Illinois was arrested after he wrote a violent essay in his creative writing class. The teacher directed her students to write in an uncensored stream of consciousness format. The assignment said, "write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing," Lee wrote a rather vulgar and extremely violent essay and handed it in to his teacher. The essay didn't threaten any particular person or group. Nevertheless the teacher was very disturbed by the essay, and called in school district officials for consultation. It was then decided that the police should be called.
Lee was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct. If he is convicted, he could face up to 30 days in jail and a $1500 fine.
First off, I want to say that I don't think we should be encouraging students to write essays of the type that Lee wrote. Nor should we be endorsing or condoning it when it does happen. Schools should have rules about this. And punishments, academic ones, should be applied.
But that said, I have a big problem with this whole incident. He didn't really break any law, and yet he got arrested and very likely will be convicted simply because people are scared of more school violence. He was charged with disorderly conduct, which is all they could charge him with since he didn't threaten anyone in his essay. Disorderly conduct generally is applied when a public disruption is caused.
In this case the only person who was even disturbed by this was the Teacher, who arguably brought this upon herself by stressing uncensored stream of consciousness writing. If he had written the same outside of school and published it on the Internet for thousands to read, potentially "disturbing" many more people, he wouldn't have been arrested. More than likely, in that case, no one would even care.
The only reason he was arrested was because he was in a school. It all comes down to his teacher and the school board having more influence than he does. So they have the ability to twist laws and get him arrested even though he didn't really commit any crime.
So how long will it be before you and I can get arrested for writing or saying something that disturbs people in power above us? I understand why they are worried about this in light of recent school violence, but if they get away with arresting him, they are setting a very bad precedent.
The kid may have been wrong to write the essay, but the truth is that he didn't break any laws.

You can check out the news story here: MSNBC: Student charged for writing violent essay
And Here: Chicago Tribune: Student writes essay, arrested by police

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