Can Poetry Be Criminal? Ca. High Court To Decide


In a case that has drawn attention from noted writers, the California Supreme Court must decide whether to uphold the criminal convictions of a 15-year-old from San Jose, George Julius T., who gave a violent poem to two high school classmates in 2001, says the San Francisco Chronicle. Titled “Faces,” it begins as a lonely youth’s lament, but takes a sinister turn with “I am Dark, Destructive & Dangerous. … I can be the next kid to bring guns to kill students at school.” Only 11 days earlier, another 15-year-old had opened fire in a high school near San Diego, killing two and wounding 13. The two girls who were given the poem said they were terrified.

George T. said later that he had meant no harm, noting that he had asked one of the girls whether the school had a poetry club. A juvenile court judge convicted him of making criminal threats, finding that he had intended to frighten his classmates and that they had reason to fear him. He was expelled from school and spent 90 days in juvenile hall. Now 18, he is about to graduate from another high school in the area. His appeal was supported by free-speech organizations and some prominent authors, including South African novelist J.M. Coetzee, the 2003 Nobel laureate. At a court hearings yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Laurence argued that the law against criminal threats applies equally to poetry: “The First Amendment does not protect against criminal conduct.” The justices seemed inclined to focus on whether the writing met the definition of a threat — a clear expression of intent to cause immediate harm.


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