Student’s arrest for controversial rap challenges free speech


Urmilla Kuttikad

Westboro Baptist Church, based in Kansas, frequently pickets military funerals in an attempt to convey its belief that all tragedies – including military deaths – are caused by an increasing tolerance of homosexuality. Holding up signs emboldened with phrases like, “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” the picketing has gotten an overwhelmingly critical and disgusted reaction from all sides.

Though many have called for restraining action against Westboro Baptist Church, the fact remains that the first amendment – specifically the freedom of speech – technically protects almost everything the church does. Westboro has been pushing the boundaries of the first amendment since it started protesting in 1991; in part, the boundaries are so easy to push because they’re blurred.

One of the biggest recent challenges pushing the blurred lines of the First Amendment is the rap Methuen Massachusetts High School student Cameron D’Ambrosio posted to YouTube. In his rap, D’Ambrosio apparently referenced the White House, the Boston Marathon bombing and said, ‘Everybody, you will see what I am going to do: kill people,’ according to Methuen Police Chief Joe Solomon.
D’Ambrosio regularly posts raps to YouTube under the name “Killa Cam,” but this one has gotten him charges of terrorism, leading to a 20-year sentence and/or a fine of up to $10,000. The line between safety and free speech is blurred, but senior Andrew Hutchinson believes D’Ambrosio’s arrest violates free speech.
“Free speech, especially how the Supreme Court has ruled about it,” Hutchinson said, “is supposed to only be overruled when there’s threatening speech and clear, present danger and even in that Massachusetts statute [used to arrest D’Ambrosio], it specifically mentions you need specific weapons and specific people or location. I just feel like this is really a violation of free speech because hip hop has always referred to violent things and referenced violent events.”
Hutchinson also believes this because freedom of speech is close to his heart. He started a political organization in ninth grade that almost got him suspended/expelled (depending on who you ask) and performs a lot of poetry regarding controversial topics. The freedom of speech is similarly important to sophomore Jack Rentschler because earlier this year, he got called into the office for things he posted on Twitter and was told he had to censor himself.
“I value free speech quite a bit,” Rentschler said. “I didn’t really place as much weight on it until I’d actually been told ‘Hey, you can’t say that.’ So yeah, now that I’m aware of what it feels like to be told that you can’t say something and you have to censor yourself, I think [censorship] is just stupid; we have free speech for a reason.”
But, though Rentschler values the freedom of speech immensely, he sees that it’s not a black and white issue. In this situation, he can see both sides of the issue.
“On one hand, I can see how many people, especially the families and the people from Boston, would feel disrespected and angry, as well as concerned,” Rentschler said, “but then again, if we arrested everyone who said something we found disrespectful or that we didn’t agree with, this wouldn’t really be America. I think it was understandable to look into the threats; I don’t know if it was reasonable to take down the video or arrest him. As much as I disagree with the video, the more you censor stuff, even if it’s stuff like this, that’ll just allow for [censorship] to be more acceptable, and anything can be censored.”
With the information given, Pop Culture teacher Austin Reed agrees with Rentschler that the government needs to be careful with what they censor. He believes that the situation is like if someone had put a video up where they depicted Allah. He wouldn’t agree with the video because the Islamic faith doesn’t allow the depiction of Allah, but he also wouldn’t agree with taking the video down.
“It’s the age-old, you can’t yell fire in a crowded building; I agree with that, you know,” Reed said. “What do I tell my students? Use freedom of speech but don’t be an idiot. Maybe that’s a good rule. Use freedom of speech but don’t be an idiot.”
Story by Urmila Kutikkad
[media url=”” width=”640″ height=”360″] One of Methuen, Massachusetts high school student Cameron D’Ambrosio’s previous raps which he posted to YouTube under the name “Killa Cam.”