After Parkland, BSO Wants to Detain More People for Social Media Posts

One day after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 to kill 17 people in Parkland, Florida, last Wednesday, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel ended a news conference by proposing an idea that is sure to trouble free-speech and civil-liberty activists: He called for lawmakers in D.C. and Tallahassee to pass laws letting cops detain civilians just for posting "questionable" things on social media, including photographs of knives or vague comments about admiring serial killers, even if the people writing the posts aren't actually threatening anyone.

Scott asked for the power to arrest civilians if police "see something on social media, if they see graphic pictures of rifles and blood and gore and guns and bombs, if they see something, horrific language, if they see a person talking about ‘I want to grow up to be a serial killer.'"

Importantly, even before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, there was already ample evidence to detain Cruz. He had been repeatedly reported to the FBI, which failed to figure out who ran the "Nikolas Cruz" YouTube account that threatened to shoot up a school last September. And last week, the FBI admitted it had failed to act on a phone tip it had received January 5 warning that Cruz owned guns and wanted to commit a mass shooting. BuzzFeed News last weekend obtained private Instagram chat messages that Cruz sent, where he sent other students photos of his gun collection and said that he was "going to watch you bleed."

Under Florida's Baker Act, police are allowed to detain mentally ill people against their will if they are determined to be a threat to themselves or others. Israel's proposal would loosen those laws to allow officers to detain people in situations where there is no actual threat.

Israel spoke to MSNBC's Chris Hayes Friday and appeared to backtrack slightly from his initial claims, according to NBC News.

"I'm talking about being around bombs, possibly talking about ‘I want to be a serial killer,’ talking about taking people’s lives,” Israel said. "Just taking a picture with a gun or a knife or a weapon — that in and of itself is clearly not even remotely something that we’re concerned about."

Perhaps most frightening, NBC also noted that wretched bog troll Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Breitbart last week that the Major County Sheriff's Association, one of the larger police lobbying groups in America, also wanted to push for more police power after the Parkland massacre. Gun-control advocates said this was a red herring designed to distract people from the fact that 18-year-olds can legally buy assault rifles in most U.S. states.

Annette Christy, who runs the University of South Florida's Baker Act Reporting Center, told NBC News last week that, though she understood where Israel was coming from, she feared his request was "opening the net way wide." She stressed that the overwhelming majority of mentally ill people are not violent and do not deserve to be needlessly detained — which, she said, is why the Baker Act requires a "credible threat" before police can act. Posting comments about "taking people's lives" would, in many cases, still apply here.

"When it crosses a line — when somebody is a harm to themselves or others — their civil liberties can be taken away to protect themselves and protect people in the public," Christy told NBC.

Police-reform advocates are certain to worry about the implications of letting cops detain more people for social media posts deemed "questionable." Would posting a photo of, say, a copy of the Koran and a knife count? What about holding a gun while wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of Assata Shakur? This idea would clearly have a chilling impact on basic speech.

There does appear to be some middle ground to satisfy police-reform advocates, who already worry that cops have too much power to detain random people, and people like Israel. Five states have some sort of "red flag" warning system, whereby family members can petition a state to temporarily take away a relative's guns during an acute mental crisis. In a statement following the Parkland shooting, the National Association on Mental Illness endorsed passing red-flag laws in more states.

"Another part of the conversation that cannot be ignored is acting on common sense approaches to ending gun violence such as gun violence prevention restraining orders, which can allow for the removal of guns from people who may pose a risk of violence to themselves and others," NAMI wrote. "While the relationship between mental illness and gun violence is very low, we need reasonable options, including making it possible for law enforcement to act on credible community and family concerns in circumstances where people are at high risk."

Police-reform critics say it would be a mistake simply to pump money into local police departments to prevent school shootings rather than deal with the basic, underlying aspects of American culture that cause the United States to lead all developed, wealthy nations in gun deaths by a wide margin. A slew of governmental and societal systems failed Cruz and, therefore, failed his 17 victims: Cruz reportedly had been diagnosed as autistic and mentally ill and clearly should have had access to far better kinds of psychiatric care and counseling. Cruz's bigoted social media posts show he harbored hateful, racist, or xenophobic thoughts of some kind. Florida's horrifically incompetent and underfunded Department of Children and Families, a government program that has been hamstrung by stingy Republican lawmakers for decades, even investigated Cruz after he posted a Snapchat video of him cutting himself days after he turned 18, but decided it couldn't do anything more for him.

Perhaps someone could have intervened before tragedy struck.

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