Three students face felony charges of making a terroristic threat for posting online two brief videos where they act out a school shooting in someone’s house.
Civil rights experts on Monday raised First Amendment issues and called the arrests police overreach since the videos don’t make any specific threat against any person or place.
The Albany County Sheriff’s Office said the videos were made by Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk students aged 10, 14 and 15 and posted to Instagram. They show a student with a fake gun barging into a living room and “shooting” two other students. In one video, students, who are all white, use a racial epithet.
Sheriff Craig Apple called the videos “very graphic, very racist and horrifying.”
Manhattan civil rights lawyer and television commentator Ron Kube said the videos don’t rise to the level of terroristic threat because there was no specific target or agenda. “This appears to be a wild overreaction driven by the legitimate concerns about school shootings,” Kube said Monday.
Civil rights lawyer Normal Siegel, former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, also said there was no terroristic threat and that the videos appeared to be an attempt at acting.
“The arrests raise serious and substantial First Amendment concerns,” said Siegel. “Making a video is protected by the First Amendment.”
In one video, the “shooter” says “I’ve always hated school” before pretending to fire a toy gun at a boy sitting on the couch and a girl writhing on the floor. In the other video, the girl says “We’re going to be learning about racism,” and the boy on the couch responds with the N-word. The third student comes in with a gun and shoots them both as rap music plays.
Another student reported the postings Friday to school officials in Ravena, 13 miles (20 kilometers) south of Albany. The sheriff’s office arrested the three students Saturday. All have been suspended from school and released to their parents.
The sheriff defended the police action.
“I expected people to say this was police overreach,” Apple said Monday. “When we don’t take any action and there’s a school shooting, what’s the response then?”
As for constitutional protection of artistic expression, Apple said, “There’s been enough shootings going on around the country. This is despicable artistic expression, if that’s what it was.”
Apple said the three students charged with felonies are being treated as juveniles in family court. A fourth student, who shot the video, was referred to the probation department.