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REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Dumb, maybe, but criminal?

Commentary • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:24 PM

So this Elmore police officer says on his Facebook page he thinks members of an Arabian horse rescue group "need to be slaughtered like livestock."

Excessive? Probably.

Bad judgment, especially since he's a police officer (whom, like it or not, society holds to higher standards) and worse, already in some sort of unspecified trouble? Certainly.

But criminal?

Hold on a minute.

Officer Shaun Harder's utterance was one drop in a tempestous teapot stirred when the Arabian horse rescuers stepped in and basically said the volunteers who rescued the sick and starving horses from a farm near Oak Harbor didn't know what they were doing. Step aside, Rube, the pros from Dover are here -- yeah. Not to excuse violence or the threat of violence, but that sort of attitude is just guaranteed to win friends and influence people and yes, that's sarcasm.

So the emotions that drove the officer's utterance can be understood. Certainly that utterance ought to be of concern to the police department -- as his boss, not as a matter of law. A good talking-to -- er, counseling -- is in order, but criminal charges? Does this rise to the level of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater?

Was it really a threat? Or just hyperbole? If hyperbole is criminal, there goes hundreds of years of tradition of using satire, sometimes over the top, to make a point.

If what the officer said is criminal, what does that mean for anyone else who expresses speech freely, no matter how repugnant someone else may find it?

Is that what we're supposed to be about?

We don't think so.

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