In the wake of the recent Virginia Tech tragedy, it was revealed that Cho, the gunman, had written several essays in his English class that were perceived by his professor as “disturbing.” Even though I am aware of the gist of Cho’s writings, I haven’t read them in full, so I have no way of judging what exactly qualifies as “disturbing,” although, as a professor, I’d sure like to know. Apparently, I am not the only person who is confused by what this means.
For example, this week, high-school senior Allen Lee wrote an essay for an assignment that was so disturbing to his teacher, school administrators and police that he was charged with disorderly conduct, said officials. Lee, 18, is a straight-A student at Cary-Grove High School in Cary, Illinois, who had never had any disciplinary problems nor had he ever been in trouble with the police. But despite these factors, he was arrested Tuesday near his home and charged with a misdemeanor for his essay that police described as violently disturbing but not directed toward any specific person or location.
Cary Police Chief Ron Delelio said the charge against Lee was appropriate even though the essay was not published or posted for public viewing. Disorderly conduct, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine, is often filed for such pranks as pulling a fire alarm or dialing 911, he said. But it can also apply when someone’s writings disturb an individual, Delelio said.
Some legal experts admitted that the disorderly conduct charge against Lee is troubling because it is due to an essay that even police admit contained no direct threats against anyone at the school. If that is the case, then what exactly constitutes a “disturbing essay”? I am sure that there are plenty of professors and teachers out there who would like to know, who need to know this.
Of course, Lee’s essay is not available on the web or anywhere else [now it is], so it is impossible to determine what was so “disturbing” about it. But what is a “disturbing essay” if it doesn’t contain direct threats against anyone? I am sure that plenty of people write “disturbing” (bizare, weird, out-of-the-ordinary) things at some point in their lives .. should they all be charged with disorderly conduct? Or maybe there can be a whole new legal category for such misbehavior; disorderly expression or maybe disorderly writing? And, if so, what should the penalty be for disorderly writing? Taking away the offender’s computer and confiscating his or her pencils and paper? A monetary fine? Or .. dare I say it .. jail time?
Some details on Lee wrote.