Friday, April 27, 2007

Free Speech is now a criminal offense

Essay arrest baffles experts

CARY | Say student's creative writing violent, but suggest counseling, not arrest

April 27, 2007

Police Thursday released portions of an essay used to charge a Cary-Grove High School student with disorderly conduct, leaving several experts puzzled at an arrest based on such schoolwork.

Asked to write about whatever he wanted in a creative writing class, would-be Marine and honors student Allen Lee, 18, described a violent dream in which he shot people and then "had sex with the dead bodies.''

But then he immediately dismissed the idea as a mere joke, writing, "not really, but it would be funny if I did.''

A second disorderly count accuses Lee of alarming first-year teacher Nora Capron by writing that "as a teacher, don't be surprised on [sic] inspiring the first CG shooting,'' an apparent reference to Cary-Grove High.

Lee said Thursday he was "completely shocked'' to be arrested Tuesday for his essay, especially because written instructions told kids not to "censor'' what they wrote.

"In creative writing, you're told to exaggerate,'' said Lee. "It was supposed to be just junk. . . .

"There definitely is violent content, but they're taking it out of context and making it something it isn't.''

"I have no intention of harming anyone,'' said Lee, who has been transferred to an alternative school setting. "I miss school.''

Lee's father, Albert Lee, who emigrated from China 32 years ago, said his son has a clean academic and police record. He, too, insisted his son's essay was not threatening but authorities "drew a conclusion before the investigation. They didn't want to do the investigation.''

However, the father would not comment on whether he believed authorities acted quickly because his son is of Asian heritage, as was the Virginia Tech campus shooter.

Family therapist Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys, said Allen Lee needs at least good counseling, but "If he was arrested solely based on those words, I don't see that as the most helpful course.''

Bernardine Dohrn, director of Northwestern University's Children and Family Justice Center, laughed when she heard the charge.

"You might want to talk to him, talk to his parents, but the criminal justice system seems to be the last thing you'd want,'' said Dohrn, a former Weatherman leader who lived for years as a fugitive.

Mike McInerney, former head of the Cook County Public Defender's Juvenile Court office, said he "wouldn't be happy'' if his son wrote such words but "I wouldn't criminalize free expression. . . . I don't think it's going to hold up criminally.''

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