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Columbine and the Criminalization of Costumes

the NYTimes reported on the arrest and felony charges leveled against two students charged with making terroristic threats based on a wisecrack they made in a Halloween Parade on the town common in Litchfield, CT. Writers Lisa Fodero and Benjamin Mueller reported on the incident that triggered the response as follows:

The State Police said the boys made “threats of bodily harm to other students,” and the Litchfield Public Schools superintendent said they went out for Halloween on Saturday night dressed in trench coats and sunglasses…

Mr. Moraghan (the young men’s lawyer) offered the first detailed account on Thursday of how an ill-advised costume turned into criminal charges.

He said that on Saturday night, the boys went to a Halloween party on the town green that draws students from several schools who want to trick-or-treat and hang out with friends. He acknowledged they were dressed in distasteful costumes but said they did not have “any object that can be used or perceived as a weapon.”

A group walked up to them, according to Mr. Moraghan’s account, and after commenting that they looked like the Columbine High Schoolkillers, someone added, “I bet you’re going to shoot up the school.”

Mr. Moraghan said, “There was a sarcastic response to that, and that was basically the end of it.” He said one girl told her parents, who then called the police. Investigators, in turn, searched the students’ cellphones and their homes, he said…

The State Police confirmed the home search, but declined to answer questions about what they found. Mr. Moraghan said, “Nothing was found in either boy’s home that could in any way give credence to what they claim the boys were going to do.”

Prosecutors declined to answer questions about the case because the defendants were juveniles.

The Litchfield Public Schools superintendent, Lynn K. McMullin, said in an email on Wednesday that “there was no credible threat and students were never in physical danger.” She did not respond to a message left for her on Thursday.

The boys did not face any weapons charges.

Because we live and thrive on fear, an ill advised choice of Halloween costumes combined with a typical teen-age wisecrack ends up with a national news story and police threatening to lock up two students for an offense that the school is evidently willing to overlook.

In retrospect, Columbine was public education’s 9-11 and the reaction to spend money providing more surveillance cameras, more door locks, more entry guards armed and otherwise was public education’s Iraq. The problem at Columbine was not one of too little security or too few cameras in the hallway. The problem was the ready access to weapons combined with two outcast students’ disaffection with school that was either ignored and untreated or overlooked because there were no resources to re-connect the disaffected students to school. If we spent our resources on staffing schools with caring teachers and provided them with the resources to do their jobs we might have created a climate of caring. Instead, we’ve created a climate of fear.

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