I have always been of the mind that all speech should be free. One should always feel free to express the worst in us, out loud, in public, where the speech can be tested against community standards and either be excoriated or accepted.
There are two events, recently published in The New York Times, that force me to wonder if there is a reason why some expressions should never be made public.
The first example concerns the murder trial of Ronell Wilson — who allegedly shot two undercover detectives in the back of the head — when he was arrested, handwritten scraps of a Rap song were found in his pocket describing the killings before they happened.
The scraps of paper
were formally introduced as evidence yesterday, between testimony from
the city’s chief medical examiner and the investigating officers.
Alongside such standard evidence, rap lyrics have come up repeatedly in
the first two weeks of the trial, most notably in testimony from a
federal agent who recited a gang member’s violent, profanity-laden
verses for the jury in a halting monotone.
Prosecutors are making similar arguments across the country this year,
in courtrooms in Albany, Oroville, Calif., College Station, Tex., and
Gretna, La. Set to drumbeats or scrawled in notebooks, the rhymes of
minor stars, aspiring producers and rank amateurs are being accepted as
evidence of criminal acts, intent and mind-set.
Is this the sort of “free society” we want in America where people can
express their most wicked desires in print and in song and then act
upon that darkness in a real life, terminal, act?
Is there a point when — like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre —
we are required to criminalize speech that directly endangers the
welfare of the rest of us?
Fantasy or not, should we allow bragging about killing someone in song?
If so, should we be later surprised if that speech is irrevocably acted
upon in the least interest of the best of us?
Does a song lyric promise the mindset of a killer in premeditation the
same way a spoken, direct, threat can warrant a death sentence — or is
all creative expression held harmless in the goal of us?
The second incredible example of hate speech finding purchase in a
public arena happened yesterday in Tehran during “The International
Conference on Review of the Holocaust.”
In a speech opening the two-day conference,
Rasoul Mousavi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for
Political and International Studies, which organized the event, said it
was an opportunity for scholars to discuss the subject “away from
Western taboos and the restriction imposed on them in Europe.”
The foreign ministry had said that 67 foreign researchers from 30
countries were scheduled to take part. Among those speaking today are
David Duke, the American white-supremacist politician and former Ku Klux Klan
leader, and Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been prosecuted in
France over his denials of the Holocaust.
Mr. Duke’s remarks late this afternoon are expected to assert that no
gas chambers or extermination camps were actually built during the war,
on the ground that killing Jews that way would have been much too
bothersome and expensive when the Nazis could have used much simpler
methods, according to an advance summary of his speech published by the
Should we condemn the Iran conference for wallowing in the dangerous
fantasy of rewriting history to serve an unveiled future want to “Wipe Israel Off The Map”
— or should we celebrate the fact we know, on-the-record, precisely
the rationale and strategy for death and destruction and act on it now
to prevent anyone else from getting shot in the back of the head?