Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"A Campus Murder Tests Facebook Clicks as Evidence of Hate"

Via Wired phone message:  Investigators say they still don’t know why Sean Urbanski, a 22-year-old University of Maryland student, walked up to 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a US Army lieutenant just days shy of college graduation, and fatally stabbed him at a campus bus stop this weekend. What they do say they know is that Collins, who was visiting a friend at UMD and did not appear to know Urbanski, was black, and that Urbanski belonged to a Facebook group called Alt-Reich: Nation, a haven of white supremacist content.

“Suffice to say that it’s despicable,” UMD police chief David Mitchell said, at a press conference, of the now deleted Alt-Reich: Nation group. “It shows extreme bias against women, Latinos, members of the Jewish faith, and especially African Americans.”

In addition to the local police department’s ongoing homicide investigation, the FBI is looking into whether Collins’ murder also amounts to a hate crime. The judges and jury of the internet have quickly reached a guilty verdict, but law enforcement is less sure. “We need something probably more than just a Facebook posting,” said Angela Alsobrooks, prosecutor for Prince George’s County, Maryland, during a press conference Monday.

Digital breadcrumbs have become key pieces of evidence for investigators in the age of social media, but they’ve also put a unique strain on the legal system, forcing courts to grapple with new questions about the relative significance of a Facebook post, a “Like,” a follow, a tweet. It’s natural for the public to want to level the harshest punishment on a person who could kill a stranger in cold blood, particularly when that killer lurked in the internet’s darkest corners and may have been motivated by racial hatred. But in Urbanski’s case, investigators, and eventually the courts, will have to carefully decide how much weight they can really put on a person’s online allegiances and whether mere membership in such a hateful online group constitutes evidence of intent to commit a hate crime.

“These are not questions the law has had to answer before,” says Neil Richards, a professor of First Amendment and privacy law at Washington University School of Law. “We don’t want to permit a system in which merely reading something or associating with other people can be used as strong evidence that you hold the views of the people you hang out with or the things you read.”

(Link to more)


edutcher said...

Suffice it to say this crime will get the chair. Even in Lefty MD.

One wonders, if Collins killed Urbanski, would the same happen.

Jim in St Louis said...

Still have not found anyplace on the internet that can define a hate crime.
Murder is murder, why would the membership of the victim in a protected class make a difference? Why would the motive or intent of the perp make a difference? (except maybe in the sentencing phase)

Methadras said...

Freedom of association is not a criminal offense. As much as I loathe the outcome, who you associate with does not make you kill people. That's an individual choice you make.