How A Post-9/11 Law Can Get You Arrested For Your Emoji Choices

Our justice system is far behind culture and technology.

Most of Aristy’s anti-cop status updates seem tame compared to the vitriol found all over the internet. They are not altogether different from many hip-hop lyrics, where the figure of the cop killer is sometimes an archetype of rebellion and power. 
But on the evening of Jan. 15, according to a criminal complaint, Aristy posted a photo of a revolver with bullets beside it, and wrote he felt “like katxhin a body right now.” A few minutes later, he posted “nigga run up on me, he gunna get blown down .” An hour later, he posted, “fuck the 83 104 79 98 73 PCTKKKK .” (All three of the posts appear to have since been deleted.)
Less than three days later, on Jan. 18, the New York Police Department arrested Aristy at his Bushwick home on a warrant accusing the teenager of “making a terroristic threat,” a felony that could carry seven years in prison upon conviction.
None of the Facebook posts that were cited to in the criminal complaint that led to Aristy’s arrest appear to include verbal or text-based threat to police officers. The teen’s references to law enforcement officers appear to be limited to cartoon representations of police and firearms.

As with many laws passed in the months after the attacks of Sept. 11, the New York State statute defining “terroristic threats” is remarkably broad. The charge entered the penal code shortly after the attacks, when the state legislature found a need for laws “specifically designed to combat the evils of terrorism.”

The statute says that any statement intending to intimidate civilians or the government by threatening to commit a specific offense can be prosecuted as terrorism. It adds that a defendant’s unwillingness or inability to actually carry out the threat “shall be no defense.”

But the statute does include one important qualifying factor, legal experts who specialize in civil liberties told BuzzFeed News. Namely, it requires prosecutors to prove that the person making the statement intended it as a threat, rather than a boast or a joke.

(This quote doesn't contain the emoji, so click through if you're interested in what the full messages looked like.)