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Rants and Graves 

Police take seriously a joke post on Craigslist urging a mass suicide.

Wednesday, Jan 21 2009

Every day, on a little nook of Craigslist known as "Rants and Raves," the miscreants, closet racists, and pranksters of the Bay Area loose their offensive messages in cyberspace. Some recent subjects included "Blacks Boycotting Bart, Sweet!" and "From the inner pits of our bowels, America hate you Biraq Osama!" Hidden by the veil of anonymity, very few posters ask to be taken seriously.

Yet the SFPD did just that last month after spotting one post headed "Gay mass suicide on the bridge this Friday" that read, "Be there or be square: We are having a mass jump on Friday every querrball [sic] is to attend. Cmon boys, it's for a good cause. Let's all jump while holding hands."

Police forwarded the post to the California Highway Patrol Office, which investigated it as a potential violation of the law against Jim Jones–like edicts: "Every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide is guilty of a felony." The CHP obtained the IP address of the poster's computer from Craigslist and tracked it to a woman living in Indio, a desert town in Southern California. When SF Weekly called her, she played dumb: "I don't know anything about Craigslist. I've heard of it, but I've never gone on it."

The CHP apparently didn't think the woman was so innocent. The case was eventually forwarded to the Riverside County District Attorney's office, but the D.A. decided the post wasn't specific enough to constitute a violation of the law, CHP spokesman Shawn Case says.

Free-speech lawyers say the whole ordeal was an exercise in stupidity. The post may "fall into the bad taste category," yet still is protected speech, San Francisco attorney Duffy Carolan says: "I think they would have something better to do than go after a poster's IP address and go after a poster that's making really a satirical comment."

What queerball would take something like that seriously? Case defends the CHP's reaction: "I think as long as someone's not going to be hurt or killed, we all have freedom of speech, and that's something we protect. But when innocent people are going to be hurt, we have to take precautions."

Will Harper contributed to this story.

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Lauren Smiley


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