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Misplaced Gun Hysteria: Brookings Police Interrogate Boy over Dad’s Retweet

On Thursday, January 31, Brooks Behrend of Brookings retweeted the following note from self-styled Canadian pundit Paul Stewart:

"Friday forecast: cool, hail of bullets; chance of kids being shot in head. Wear bullet proof vests; matching helmets #atlanta #newtown #nra"

The next day, Behrend tweeted thus:

"Twitter lesson. Don't RT others satire. It may get you and your KID visited by the cops."

I had to ask. Mr. Behrend explained that someone in town apparently noticed his retweet on a Weather Channel app and alerted the local police. The police took a screen capture of the retweet, brought it to Brookings High School, pulled Mr. Behrend's younger son out of class and into the principal's office, and asked the student what that retweet was about.

To clarify, Mr. Behrend's son's name is not Brooks.

Mom got called, went to the school, explained that her husband retweeted that message. The policeman sent the boy back to class and went to visit Mr. Behrend at work. Says Behrend, the policeman said there was some other threat under investigation at the time, so his retweet came at a moment of intense scrutiny. The policeman offered no solid explanation of why they didn't come straight to dad instead of picking on a boy who had no idea what his dad was posting or reposting online. The policeman said he wasn't sure if Behrend would be charged with anything or not.

I welcome commenters to discuss the merits of the original tweet as satirical commentary on our conflicting yet complementary obsessions with guns and security theater. But I want to focus on two points:

First, the policeman was blowing smoke on charges. There is nothing for which Brooks Behrend can be charged here. Behrend's account of the incident suggests we have another prime example of gun hysteria leading to bad public decisions that hinder education and harm children.

Second, the day my daughter gets called into the principal's office because of something I blog or tweet, there will be a brief and intense conversation which will begin and end with, "I am very sorry Mr. Heidelberger. This should never have happened, and it will never happen again."


  1. Thad Wasson 2013.02.07

    Not unreasonable. The D.C. sniper had his step-son participate in his killing spree.

  2. WayneB 2013.02.07

    Seems more like a 1st Amendment issue to me, Cory...

    However, had anyone notified the police of a tweet such as that, I would hope they'd take a peek into it. We should not take likely the discussion of shootings. At first blush, that could certainly look like a threat.

    The fact the police were able to determine no threat was intended is a credit to our sanity, not our hysteria, especially if something else was brewing at the time.

    I agree with you on the blowing smoke about charges, though... but then again, we all know we cannot shout "fire" in a theater, so there are limits to free speech, and consequences for going to far. I don't think Mr. Behrend's speech went too far, but it was definitely worth looking into.

    Had Mr. Behrend actually been about to do something, we'd all be pretty upset upon discovering the Brookings PD had been alerted by the tweet but decided to sit on it. This is the perils of armchair quarterbacking.

  3. El Rayo X 2013.02.07

    Friday forecast: Going to NYC, packed with gallons of ice cold Mt. Dew and high capacity cups, chance of kids getting a sugar rush, diabetics blacking out and Mayor Bloomberg freaking out.

  4. mc 2013.02.07

    Had this been a real threat, and the PD just blew it off, I would really be pissed. I can understand why the police called the student out of class, They wanted more information before confronting Mr. Behrend. The police did indicate another possible threat, so it may be been bad timing.

    Gun Hysteria Maybe? Given all the media coverage that recent school shooting have getting, I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't more copy cats. Law enforcnement has to check out each threat as if it were real.

  5. Rorschach 2013.02.07

    Won't be any charges. This guy didn't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. He just retweeted someone else yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. The police have to follow up on such things to see if they are satire or a serious threat.

    Pulling someone's kid out of class to question the kid seems a bit much on its face, but when the possible threat is kids getting shot it's not unreasonable for the police to question relatives of the person making the perceived threat when those relatives are in a school setting.

    This dude now gets the point. "Don't RT others [bad] satire."

  6. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.07

    Looked like obvious satire or commentary on the miserable state of gun laws and use right now to me. Also looks like more than one set of stupid, ignorant official behaviors.

    Of course, had the re-tweeter added, " A little black humor here:............" his intent might have been obvious to the humor-impaired.

    The drunks driving on the streets ignored by the police are a daily threat more likely to cause problems than satire.

    Anyway, too foggy here today to see clearly.

  7. Mark 2013.02.07

    I think this was handled appropriately. In this day and age, asking a student about this in a discreet manner, was wise. Thad Wasson brings up a valid point. Assuming something "looked like obvious satire" is not an assumption that is prudent to make. If there's any doubt the call tilts toward the abundance of caution. I'm sure the student will recover from the trauma of being "pulled" from class for a few minutes to clarify the situation.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.07

    That's what scares me, when we start justifying improper police action by saying, "Well, can't risk the safety of our children." That's the same rationale that might bring more guns into our schools (though still no more funding for daily needs). That's the kind nof thinking that has our kids living in fear. Cops haul my daughter into the principal's office to ask her scary questions about things her dad puts online, questions she can't answer. She's not going to come away from that incident feeling better about school or the police. She's going to come away from that incident feeling more afraid of both. Cops, you got a problem with what a parent writes, you go to the parent.

    Just curious: if the cops suspect John Doe of selling drugs, do they go to school and interrogate John Doe's children?

  9. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.07

    Looks like they usually haul the kids off to a foster home or other care.

  10. Mark 2013.02.07

    I think your fear is unfounded, Cory. Without knowing anything more about the Brookings situation, I'm speculating that nobody was hauled away to the principal's office to be interrogated by the cops. I'm guessing (and hoping) that this was handled discreetly and delicately and after a few questions, the student was returned to class.
    Thankfully, this was not an actual threat. And I think the principal and the police probably handled it correctly. I appreciate and respect your sensitivity for the rights and civil liberties of those involved, especially children, the school and the police had a duty to ascertain what was going down here, which was done, apparently with some questioning which was very unlikely anything close to an interrogation.

  11. LRO 2013.02.07

    Anytime a student is removed from class and taken to the office discreet is off the table. The school office is a public place where other students parents and staff frequent. There are 25 to 30 students in the classroom wondering why and what this particular student did to be taken out of class.
    It is my opinion had this concern been properly investigated initially the school would have remained uninvolved.

  12. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.07

    Or the school should have known enough to not be involved.

  13. Richard Schriever 2013.02.07

    I will simply note that Mr. Behernd is a relative - member of a family with a long history of very dry humor - and not comment further.

  14. Steve O'Brien 2013.02.08

    School and national security tend to breed overreaction. All things considered, I prefer this officer's overreaction (some may call diligence) preferable to the NRA "arm everyone" reaction to all threats (real and imagined).

  15. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.08

    It is not just an over-reaction, it is an inappropriate action.

    Write about the two innocent women that got shot in California delivering newspapers and being mistaken for the big black former policeman intent on murdering other policemen.

Comments are closed.