A Seattle, Washington, man was sentenced with three years of supervised release this week for threats he made against Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson on Facebook. The man, Jaleel Abdul-Jabbaar, called for the officer involved in the fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown to be killed. In addition to the supervised release, Abdul-Jabbaar has been ordered to stay off of social media.
The public defender who took Abdul-Jabbaar’s case, Kyana Givens, said that the man wasn’t aware his comments were not protected by free speech. She also noted that it was unfair for Abdul-Jabbaar, who previously worked in the IT industry and is trying to find a job, to have his access limited to social networking sites.
“He thought he was venting to a private group of his Facebook ‘Friends,’” Givens said. “He was wrong about the boundaries of his speech and unbeknownst to him his venting was expressed publicly… If Mr. Abdul-Jabbaar had shouted these comments from the ‘Town Square’ or sent them by U.S. mail no one would be suggesting that his speech in those forums should be limited or monitored.”
Many people express outrage on social media, sometimes even with violent or threatening terms. The judge in Abdul-Jabbaar’s case noted that he understood the man’s anger over the events in Ferguson, and that the decision was one of the hardest for him to make in his career. As more law enforcement and government officials turn to Facebook to gather evidence, decisions like this one aren’t going away any time soon.