Layman’s Note On Incitement

To The Reader’s Forum:

A number of months ago a vehicle with the bumper sticker stating “Shoot your local heroin dealer” running around in the Lakewood/Jamestown area caught my eye. Not being a great supporter of the whole heroin dealing business my emotional reaction has been complicated. Sure, heroin dealers ruin countless lives, and we could certainly do with a few less of the kind.

However, digging deeper I find a couple of objections to the appeal. The first and obvious is its implication of disregard for the rule of law, both from the poster of the message and the law enforcement that by now have seen the encouragement to violence numerous times. The first amendment does not give us the right to incite to violence and criminal acts willy-nilly. In Bradenburg vs Ohio, the US Supreme Court ruled the first amendment allows punishment for subversive advocacy aimed at producing imminent lawless action.

I would argue that, considering the prevalence of drug dealers in our Jamestown area, this call for violence is a call for imminent such. Take the example of some fictitious person whose loved one has succumbed to the heroin habit, and who has attempted extracting the addict from the environment. This person is then likely to know the whereabouts of dealers. Considering then the low likelihood of having been able to help the loved one, his state of mind being one of desperation and depression in probable. To this person the message is must be considered a call to imminent action.

My second objection is the type of simplified reasoning the message implies. Drug dealers are an example of a common enemy that may be agreed upon without jeopardizing our self-image. Just as with opposition against immigration it unifies a large part of the population, blaming some outsider for our self-inflicted troubles. Setting aside the heroin epidemic as such and only focusing on the dealer, a more thought through response might have focused on the social conditions that encourage the type of criminality he represents.

But this won’t fit on a bumper sticker.

Karl Holmgren



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