Charges dropped! Free speech wins!

Cameron D'Ambrosio is a teenager from Massachusetts who was jailed for over a month for posting "threatening" rap lyrics on Facebook. Over 90,000 people signed this petition calling for his release, and we won! Cam's charges were officially dropped on June 27th, showing the power that we can have when we come together on the Internet to do good.

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Sign the petition to get this kid home to his parents:

"Posting lyrics on Facebook is not a crime. Jailing Cameron D'Ambrosio is a violation of the First Amendment. Release him to his family and protect free speech."

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After you read this kid's story, you'll think twice about what you post on Facebook. (And that's the problem.)

Meet Cameron D'Ambrosio. He's 18 and lives in a small town outside Boston. He's an aspiring rapper and calls himself "Cammy Dee" in his YouTube videos. He likes music, video games, and is planning to go to college.

Oh, and he's been locked up without bail for weeks -- facing terrorism charges and 20 years in prison -- all for something he posted on Facebook.

On May 1st, Cam posted some lyrics to his Facebook that included a reference to the Boston Marathon Bombing and called the Whitehouse a "federal house of horror." Shortly after that he was arrested and charged with Communicating a Terrorist Threat, a felony that carries 20 years in prison.

The post contained no specific threat of violence against any person or group of people, and in the context of the rest of the lyrics and Cams' rap persona, it was clearly nothing more than a metaphor and rap braggadocio -- Cam wasn't saying he would "outdo" the Marathon bombing, as the media has frequently reported, he's saying he's going to be famous rapping, more famous than the marathon bombing. A la Biggie Smalls "blowing up like the World Trade." It may be a distasteful line, but it's free speech and it's protected by the Constitution.

Cam has been sitting in a cell for almost a month awaiting trial after a judge ordered him held without bail and declared him a "danger to the community," despite the fact that the police testified that he was very polite, remorseful, and co-operative when arrested and a search of his person and home found ZERO evidence that he was planning anything other than becoming the next Eminem.

At an initial bail hearing, the prosecution was clearly grasping at straws and brought up incidents from Cam's past -- like the fact that he allegedly bit another student during a fight when he was 11 years old, and the fact that the police were called after a fight he had with his sister several years ago.

Even if you think that a history of getting into petty fights is evidence of Cam being a terrorist mastermind, it's worth noting that his sister was in the court room to support him at his bail review hearing on May 23, and she is prepared to testify that he is a threat to no one. She's outraged that what she characterizes as a "normal fight between a brother and sister" is now being used to hold her little brother in a jail cell indefinitely when he should be home with his family.

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Held without bail? For writing a rap song?

Take a minute to watch the video of one of Cam's songs to the left, and decide for yourself whether you think he's a threat to public safety, or just a teenager speaking his mind.

Remember, this isn't about whether or not you like Cam, his music, or anything he has to say. Protecting free speech is about protecting everyone's rights for the future. It's a very slippery slope once we start deeming certain types of speech to be "too extreme." If people were concerned about Cam's lyrics, a simple check in from a school administrator or caring teacher would have been a great alternative to a month in jail without bail facing 20 years in prison for a split second decision of posting lyrics online.

Cam is locked up right now and he needs your help. Civil liberties groups haven't jumped in to help. The judge has shown severe bias already. Cam's best shot at justice is to make sure that Authorities in this small town know that the rest of the country is watching, and that we won't let them set a precedent of arresting teenagers for angsty lyrics.

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Slim chance of a fair trial.

It's not a surprise that the judges in this case felt pressure to come down hard on Cam, since the local media has been quick to sensationalize the story and demonize a harmless teenager.

Before charges were even formally filed, local newspapers were already posting pictures from Cam's facebook and pointing to "disturbing" posts like "Fuck politics. Fuck Obama. Fuck the government!" and "satanic" imagery (like some image from a metal band's poster.) All of this is free speech that is 100% protected by the 1st Amendment.

But Fox News went so far as to say that Cam's facebook profile had images that they "couldn't show on TV." They and other media outlets frequently and intentionally printed only a small section of the lyrics that Cam was arrested for allegedly writing, and took them out of context to make rap metaphors sound like a real threat.

The media printed:

"(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do, I’ma be famous"

The actual line is:

"(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do, I’ma be famous rapping"

Notice something? The context completely changes the meaning of the line. Suddenly something that sounds like a threat of violence is clearly just bragging about how good Cammy Dee is going to be in the rap game. Last we checked, teenage dreams of grandeur were not a crime.

This is allegedly a screenshot of the full text of Cam's post:

Massachusetts Law is pretty clear about what constitutes a "terroristic threat". The statement has to claim that there is a weapon or a bomb, and/or threaten a specific place or location with the intent of causing disruption. Cam comparing his rap aspirations with the amount of media coverage tragedy in Boston got doesn't even come close.

The Methuen Chief of Police even stated: “I do want to make clear he did not make a specific threat against the school or any particular individuals...”

Cam should be released immediately unless the D.A. can produce some additional evidence as to why he is a threat to anyone.

Many of us from Center for Rights are from Boston and we understand that many will find Cam's lyrics troubling. It's imperative that we don't allow the tragedy that occurred here to be used to justify attacks on free speech. Sending a teenager to prison, away from his family and support system, for a split second decision of posting a rant online, can only lead to more violence in the world, not less.

We need real solutions to violence in our schools and our communities. But sending a kid to prison who is about to graduate high school and has his whole life ahead of him is nothing less than a travesty of justice. Sign the petition to help us get Cam home with his parents, and then share this page to fight back against the notion that censorship makes us safer.

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