Fighting Tats

I am not a fan of tattoos, but that’s just my sensibility. Your mileage may vary. Despite tats not being quite my taste, there is one thing they are not: a terrorist threat.  Except in Minneapolis, where spokesman Sgt. Bill Palmer (where  have I heard that name before?) saw it clearly:

“The tattoo is certainly a new one,” said Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. Bill Palmer. “It’s a new one on me. … This threat certainly isn’t subtle.”

The “threat,” which Hennepin County police learned about from the Facebook page of 20-year-old Antonio Frasion Jenkins Jr., who thought all those hits were from people who liked him, was neither pretty nor, as Sgt. Palmer observed subtle.  From the Star Tribune :

The tattoo on Jenkins’ left bicep depicts a person holding a semi-automatic handgun with the barrel of the gun partially in the mouth of a pig, according to a criminal complaint. The tattoo includes the officer’s name (although it’s misspelled), his badge number and an expletive directed at police. The Facebook post on Jenkins’ page also includes a message about the tattoo: “My tattoo iz a pig get’n his brains blew out.” According to the criminal complaint, 18 people gave the post a “thumbs-up” (or “like”) response

And he paid to have this done to him. Notably, the expletive wasn’t just any expletive, but a “vile” expletive. That certainly changes things, causing the prosecutor to put on his serious face.

Hennepin County District Attorney Mike Freeman said: “It’s real and it’s serious.”

And so, Jenkins was charged with incredibly poor judgment in permanently defacing his body “making terrorist threats (for the benefit of a gang).”  Nowhere in the article is there any suggestion that the whole courtroom had a good laugh, and Jenkins was released and given a ride home.  To the contrary, Jenkins was a gangbanger, and tats on gangbangers are much more threatening.  If pictures could kill.

Into the breach stepped the ACLU.

The ACLU’s [Chuck] Samuelson says no.

He conceded that police have a known bad guy who is indicating strong disapproval of this police officer. “But to make the stretch to terroristic threats is a big leap,” Samuelson said. “For terroristic threats you have to brandish a gun or a gun lookalike. … Basically we have someone making fun of the police.”

“Bad manners, you bet,” he said. “Criminal? No.”

What distinguishes this arrest, this charge, isn’t that a delicate police officers whose feelings were hurt by a person who cursed in his presence and made him feel badly about his choice of careers. That happens regularly, and cops wrap it up in a pretty bow with a few added details of conduct that, if not proven false by video or witnesses, makes out the arguable existence of an offense. 

Here, however, there is no additional allegation of any action by Jenkins, aside from some bragging about his tat.  This time, the police felt that the mere image, the existence of this tattoo, was enough to establish a crime.  They didn’t even try to bury their true feelings in claims that make out a putative offense.

This is bad. That the prosecutor didn’t laugh at it and tell them to go have a cup of camomile tea is bad. That the judge didn’t rip the prosecution a new one for having wasted the court’s time, that is bad.  Bad, bad, bad.

And that a person, even an alleged gangbanger (a status so hated by police as to itself be tantamount to a terrorist threat even in the absence of any conduct that constitutes a crime) is being prosecuted because an incredibly ugly image on his body makes the cops feel angry and hurt, not to mention disrespected, goes well over the line.  There is no crime here, except against good taste. 

And when the mere existence of expressive speech so offends the cops that they deem it worthy, in itself, to establish a crime, and the rest of the system goes along with it as if it wasn’t batshit ridiculous, we open a whole new door to the criminal justice system, things that piss off police and things that make police frightened.

Sticks and stone, cops. Now go drink some tea and let Jenkins loose.  If he’s such a bad guy, he’ll eventually do something that will actually justify an arrest. In the meantime, he already has to suffer the indignity of this butt-ugly tattoo. Isn’t that enough?

H/T Ed at Blawg Review

8 comments on “Fighting Tats

  1. Rob Sullivan

    While our opinions may differ regarding tattoos in general (I have many), I do agree that this steps way over the line. I guess the “crime” would be the same if he had worn a t-shirt with the same image and statement. No way this holds up if challenged. Let’s hope it is. If bad taste is going to be a crime, I’m going to have to stop wearing that Member’s Only Jacket I still have in my closet from the style-challenged 1980s or I’m headed to the clink for sure.

  2. James

    The police probably would have had a greater impact and better chance of success going after the facebook account the picture originally showed up on. Not that collusion between private companies and government entities to extract revenge for hurt feelings is any better but it does come across as less stick and more carrot.

    A more refined and quiet oppression, if you will. This was just garish.

  3. Alice Harris

    . Very sad situation. I have a client serving an 8-yr prison sentence for violating probation, allegedly for tampering with the GPS tracking device he was required to wear. That conviction is being appealed, partially because of something the judge said before sentencing him. My client now has flames tattooed above each eyebrow. (he suffers from mental illnesses) years ago, some other young men offered to buy him a six-pack of beer if he would tattoo “cop killer” above his eyebrows. The judge questioned him about what had been on his face and persisted in this questioning until client told him what the judge clearly already knew–cop killer had been there earlier. Client is being terribly mistreated by guards on prison. Visited him recently. He looked terrible. Reported being beaten by guards and inmates. I am in serious fear for his survival.

  4. Onlooker

    Naw, save it. It’ll come back in style eventually! Fashion is just a big, arbitrary loop. All it takes is for some notorious gangsta or Hollywood star to wear it, and voila, we’ve gotta have it! (well, not everyone, but…)

  5. Onlooker

    Just contempt of cop in another form. The highest offense (well, other than shooting one, of course). Must be punished with impunity.

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