4 May 2004
Paragraphs of doom
Matt Deatherage has been following the strange tale of Brian Robertson, a high-school student from Moore who happened upon a text file containing what purported to be evacuation orders in the event of some unspecified disaster. Robertson read the file, found inspiration therein, and wrote a short story about an armed assault on his school.
In a normal environment, it would have ended there. But we live in the Age of Zero Tolerance, so when the school administration found the story, they called the cops, and Robertson was charged with a felony: under a 2001 let's-make-sure-we-don't-have-another-Columbine bill, it was illegal to "plan, attempt, conspire, or endeavor to perform an act of violence," and Robertson's story, viewed through the eyes of Zero Tolerance, looked like a plan. The charges looked even sillier once the case came before a judge, and were duly dropped, but inasmuch as it took over a year to bring the case to trial, Oklahoma law forbids expunging Robertson's record.
Until now. The Legislature has passed a measure which redefines the law to require malicious intent and provides the authority to clear the records of those charged under the previous version.
[S]imply writing the story as before is no longer a thoughtcrime; the state has to prove you intended to carry out the plan.
Which is, of course, as it should be.