By now, most everyone knows that parody is protected speech under the First Amendment. If we can’t make fun of things, then truly we have no freedom left, right?
In Illinois, things got a little bit more interesting when police investigated and arrested a man for operating a fake Twitter account parodying the mayor of Peoria, Ill.
An Illinois man arrested when his residence was raided for parodying his town’s mayor on Twitter is settling a civil rights lawsuit with the city of Peoria for $125,000. The accord spells out that the local authorities are not to prosecute people for parodies or satire.
Plaintiff Jon Daniel, the operator of the @peoriamayor handle, was initially accused last year of impersonating a public official in violation of Illinois law. However, the 30-year-old was never charged. His arrest was kicked off after the local mayor, Jim Ardis, was concerned that the tweets in that account falsely portrayed him as a drug abuser who associates with prostitutes. One tweet Ardis was concerned about said, “Who stole my crackpipe?”
As part of the agreement, (PDF) which includes legal fees, his attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union said Peoria will publish a “directive” to the police department making it clear that Illinois law criminalizing impersonation of a public official does not include parody and satire.
“The directive makes clear that parody should never be the predicate for a criminal investigation and that the action against Mr. Daniel should never be repeated again,” Karen Sheley, an ACLU attorney, said in a statement.
Daniel is satisfied with the outcome. Unsurprisingly Peoria officials are defending their actions. It’s baffling, but yes, they’re defending their actions. To bad the mayor didn’t have the resources to call together all the media outlets in the region to clarify that the Twitter account wasn’t his. Sort of like a conference with the press…oh wait! He could!
Really folks, if we can’t mock our elected officials, what’s the point of even following politics? On the other hand, guess who gets to pay for the entertainment? The local taxpayers will foot the bill. That’s not funny.