Rabble Rouser Review: Tattoo as a Threat?


Something local caught my attention this week thinking about dress and crime. Someone from right near where I live is in hot water for his tattoo being perceived as a threat.

Says regional newspaper The Star Tribune:

The Hennepin County attorney charges that the tattoo [NAME], 20, put on his arm and on Facebook was a terroristic threat against the officer….The tattoo on [NAME] left bicep depicts a person holding a semi-automatic handgun with the barrel of the gun partially in the mouth of a pig, according to a criminal complaint. The tattoo includes the officer’s name (although it’s misspelled), his badge number and an expletive directed at police. The Facebook post on Jenkins’ page also includes a message about the tattoo: ‘My tattoo iz a pig get’n his brains blew out.’ According to the criminal complaint, 18 people gave the post a “thumbs-up” (or “like”) response.”

This is an interesting case, and more blatant than some of the things I’ve been researching. Many of the topics that have thus far caught my eye were about misinterpretations, subculture, and profiling. Yet this is in fact an accurate statement that this person has disdain for the police, but, as noted in the STRIB article:

“Not so fast, said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.’This is the United States of America and we have a Bill of Rights, and that’s a messy thing oftentimes,’ he said.”

So there are questions about dress as a form of communication, action, and self-expression, and can dress be “hate speech” or other forms of public statement that can be held against you? I’ll let you know as more details emerge. Love to read your comments on this topic.

Image from http://img.ehowcdn.com/article-new/ehow/images/a07/hs/27/set-up-depth-tattoo-gun-800×800.jpg
Image is not of the tattoo or person in question, it is illustrating how a tattoo is done

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  • Laura Morrigan June 19, 2013 06.26 am

    As someone who has a tattoo myself (albeit a rather pretty one with flowers that even my grandma sort of approves of) I often worry about tattoo discrimination. I definitely don’t go out of my way to show my tattoo off while looking for jobs, especially as I would have it covered at work anyhow. It bothers me that people sometime judge others for having tattoos, even when they are something meaningful.

    In this case, however, the tattoo is a bit iffy. I know I do not judge people who like to express themselves, but I saw a kid with a swastika tattoo once and that definitely worried me. I don’t think having a tattoo should ever be considered a crime as it sets up a bad precedent of discrimination against tattooed people, but I think that sometimes a tattoo can be a warning sign to stay away from someone because they are a bit crazy.

  • Alison June 19, 2013 04.57 pm

    Including an officer’s name and badge number seems like enough to investigate it as a threat, just as it would be if the person had posted something online or saying the officer should be shot. This is too specific to be free-and-clear free speech.

  • Shybiker June 21, 2013 09.23 am

    Fascinating case. It reminds me of the Supreme Court precedent from my generation (Cohen) in which a man was arrested for wearing a denim jacket to court which said on the back “Fuck The Draft.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that this was protected speech and not punishable conduct.


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