In what will be a test for the future of First Amendment rights on the internet, two alleged gang members are facing five years in a Florida prison for flashing gang signs on Myspace.
The two men were arrested under a law that was passed last year – which was sponsored by a retired Miami police officer - that criminalizes the use of electronic media to “promote” gangs.
Elvis Rodriguez, 30, flashed Latin Kings hand signals on his MySpace.com page and called himself “King Kamel,” according to his arrest report.
Richard Figueroa-Santiago, 22, used his MySpace page to post pictures of friends making “Eastside” hand gestures, detectives said.
If I wasn’t too lazy right now, I would post a picture of myself with my middle finger directed at Rep. William D. Snyder, R-Stuart, the former cop who sponsored this bill.
Instead, I will post a picture of the guy who flipped me off a few weeks ago. He was an asshole but he was well within his rights to flip me off.
And his actions are no different than any other asshole who flashes “gang signs.”
The two alleged gang members were arrested in one of those high profile sweeps that net more publicity than actual results.
Both were nabbed in November as part of “Operation Firewall,” a slate of arrests by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office that netted 15 people, including a Bonita Springs felon charged with stockpiling weapons, six juveniles with flashy Myspace.com accounts and a pair of middle-aged men accused of recruiting gang members.
As Miami CBS4 reporter Jim Defede points out, we should be wary of high profile sweeps with cool sounding names. He recently reported about a press conference in Miami where cops were bragging about all the arrests they made during “Operation Dead End.”
Looking more closely at the charges, it was obvious the chief was padding his stats. Included in those 53 individuals were two homeless guys, one of whom was arrested for public intoxication. Another of the defendants was detained for not having a valid driver’s license. Seven were charged with simple trespassing. There were also individuals arrested for disorderly conduct and for resisting arrest without violence.
So it is obvious that Florida cops are trying to justify all the federal money that is granted to them – through democratic and republican administrations – by making bullshit arrests.
If the gangs are truly a problem down here, then surely they can conjure up stronger charges against them than the simple act of flashing gang signs.
After all, the heil Hiter sign is protected speech, as much as it offends. And the neo-Nazi groups – as thuglike and ganglike as they appear – are protected under the First Amendment.
So until the two alleged suspects are accused of murder or making specific threats against somebody, then I will back them up.
Because as it is now, the real gangs are the men in blue.