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Shakespeare in Handcuffs



“For the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet.”  -Emerson




     Is it unreasonable to prosecute individuals for expressing themselves through poetry or other forms of non-violent expression?  The Supreme Court of California is faced with this issue, while America once again looks down the barrel of constitutional indecision.  The following article will decisively demonstrate the psychological importance of expression, the constitutional violations of censorship, and the fundamental wrongness of thought prosecution. 

     Poets as far back as Chaucer and Shakespeare have utilized violent imagery.  What makes poetic expression ideal is that it allows us to record impressions of the world

around us, aiding our ability to grow and learn as a cultural phenomenon.  Contrary to the views of our over reactive educational institutions and popular media, expression allows for the alleviation of violence by providing an emotional sounding board for social frustration.  In March 2001, George Julius, age 15, wrote a poem titled “Faces”.  In one verse he stated, “I am the dark, destructive and dangerous. …I can be the next kid to bring guns to kill students at school.”  After showing it off to a few friends George was arrested, prosecuted and convicted of two counts of making criminal threats. He spent 90 days in juvenile hall and was expelled from school.  The proponents to these actions cite Columbine and other statistical anomalies as justification, while breathing life into their own fears, and once again raising the level of paranoia and hysteria throughout the hollowed halls of American schools. 

     In addition to punitive damages, the school board ignored his obvious cry for help, and reacted by violating his first amendment rights, sending a message to the rest of the world that censorship is alive and well, and living in North America.  With the flick of the pen we had digressed as far back as the dark ages, where poets were imprisoned or even beheaded for their writings.  In response to these arguments the schools point to the Latin phrase, in loco parentis, which implies that while in school custody the school has basic parental rights that extend outside of governmental jurisdictions.  Therefore, the court systematically upholds many violations of student rights.  Here, the weight of responsibility must be challenged to consider the magnitude of the issue resting singularly on the convening school board.  We must consider the impact constitutional violations will have (on students) when they originate from the very institutions of learning installed to foster freedom of expression and creative thought.    

     Lastly, there is a fundamental wrongness in punishment for thought, instead of an actual act.  Who among us should act as thought police to differentiate between intent and poetic device?  What are the rules, and who makes them?  Is violent imagery ok from a third person perspective, rather than the first?  Long ago, a young man hammered away on a second hand typewriter.  He wrote of the frustrations and injustices that were taking place around him.  He wrote of horror.  He wrote of violence.  He told the story of a boy who took his class hostage, and terrified the students at gunpoint.  It was a descriptive and graphic view into the mind of a killer.  The story was “Rage”, and the young writer was Stephen King; age 17.  Perhaps we should have put him behind bars to toil amongst the dusty bones of his hero, H.P. Lovecraft. 

     Yes America, art actually does reflect life.  When the front pages of newspapers are plastered with school shootings and serial killings, contemporary prose will regurgitate that reality.  Poetic expression allows for the interpretation and manageability of often-harsh realities, and it is simply unreasonable to prosecute individuals for expressing themselves through poetry or other forms of non-violent expression.  The Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney once said, “There is no use coming to poets…expecting or ordering them to deliver a certain product to fit a certain agenda, for although they must feel answerable to the world they inhabit, poets, if they are to do their proper work, must also be free.”  To that end, what needs to be said will continue to be, even as the heads roll among us.