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May 11, 2013

Debate ensues after Methuen student's arrest

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, in which two young men detonated bombs at the crowded finish line on Boylston Street and killed three people, and the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, in which a young man shot to death 20 children and seven adults, the public and political leaders have begun debating how to detect potential threats before they become real tragedies.

In the midst of that debate, 18-year-old Cameron D’Ambrosio, a Methuen High School senior, was arrested on May 1 and charged with making a terroristic threat, a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison, after he wrote on Facebook that he would outdo the Marathon bombing, be famous for rapping and “beat every murder charge that comes across me.”

Two arguments have developed around D’Ambrosio’s arrest, his expletive-laced violent post and the balancing of freedom of expression with security, and specifically the need to prevent lethal random violence.

One argument is that the post, which included a vague boast of outdoing the Marathon bombing and killing people to get respect, is a threat to commit violence and the latest in a series of threats from the young man. Another is that the post is the expression of an artist using rap’s egotistical swaggering style and a reflection of a violent culture and world, giving D’Ambrosio’s post protection under the First Amendment.

D’Ambrosio, who police have said has a history of threatening violence , but later apologetically backing away from the statements, labeled himself a rapper on his Facebook page and has posted videos of himself rapping on YouTube.

“Political or artistic speech have additional protection under the First Amendment, but a true threat of violence has none,” said Dr. Morgan Marietta, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “The crux of the issue is what a reasonable person would conclude.”

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