A report from BuzzFeed News writer Tyler Kingkade revealed that one high schooler from New Jersey is currently facing up to 10 years in prison for a graphic song and photo he uploaded to SoundCloud.
The song, recorded just ten days after the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting, caused fellow students, teachers, and law enforcement to worry that 18-year-old Michael Schmitt might be planning a mass shooting. This fear provoked SWAT teams to descend upon his school after the song was shared on social media.
The senior of James Caldwell High School in Caldwell, New Jersey uploaded the song titled “u lil sluts @ jchs i love u all even tho yall hurt me and i forgive u. i would never hurt u,” including lyrics like, “You can suck my dick,” “You’re gonna get cracked on the head like an egg, bitch” and “Pull my gun, kill your fuckin’ head/Now you’re dead, go to sleep.” His SoundCloud profile picture also showed him holding a handgun pointed to the camera. The “jchs” in the titled refers to his high school, though no other specific references to the school or students were made in the song. He promoted the track on his social media accounts in the morning, prompting his school to lockdown by the afternoon.
“A student associated with our school put a violent song on SoundCloud, which references killing somebody—shooting somebody in the head—and posts a picture of him with a gun, and made a connection to girls at our school,” Principal Jim Devlin told BuzzFeed News when asked about his decision to contact authorities.
After the lockdown, Schmitt was arrested and charged for creating a “false public alarm.” In New Jersey, that charge can carry a five to ten-year prison sentence. Schmitt is currently on house arrest, waiting for his potential trial.
“They painted me as a school shooter, and that’s terrifying,” Schmitt told BuzzFeed, claiming the song was nothing more than a parody. Schmitt explained “sluts” is how he refers to his male friends, and that the song was simply a weird ode to his love of hip-hop, and not a warning of an impending attack on his public school. “Whenever these school shootings are happening, it’s scary to me that I’m being associated with that because of this rap song.”
But Principal Delvin argues the arrest was definitely warranted. “If you put all of that together, it does seem pretty threatening. At that point it’s not my job to say, Is it credible? Is it not? We have to protect our students and families,” he told BuzzFeed.
This case is a troubling one that puts into question the legality of prosecuting someone for the content of their art, rather than their actions. “This is making the argument that the art is actually autobiography,” University of Richmond’s Erik Neilson told BuzzFeed. “What’s disturbing is that we’re just seeing more and more of these cases all over.”
Joseph Giordano, the assistant prosecutor handling Schmitt’s case, will present Schmitt’s case to a grand jury in the coming weeks.