Prosecutor: Threats aren't free speech

Gibson County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Meade addressed Gibson Southern High School students about recent threats made to schools in the county Tuesday, alongside Prosecutor Michael Cochren.

FORT BRANCH – Gibson County Prosecutor Michael Cochren and Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Meade warned students at Gibson Southern High School Tuesday of the legal ramifications of making threats to fellow students and schools.

The program, first of planned at local schools in the county, comes weeks after various threats put multiple county schools on lockdown.

“How many of you think freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want whenever you want to whoever you want?” Cochren asked students.

Only a couple of hands went up in response. Cochren explained that threats are not protected speech and amount to intimidation. “It’s something that we prosecute,” he said.

Threats are always taken seriously, whether they were meant seriously or not, he explained.

“I don’t have the luxury of deciding which one is joking and which one is not,” Cochren said.

All students are entitled to an education, but they are not entitled to interrupt the education of others, Cochren explained. Threats also interrupt the duties of law enforcement and expend a lot of local resources to ensure students are safe.

Meade centered his comments on student conduct, reminding the packed auditorium that words do have power, and they can hurt.

Teachers are the front line of defense against threats to the school, he said, and urged students to always come forward when an issue arises.

He ended with a takeaway in the form of a quote he said had stuck with him for years. “Don’t do what you feel. Don’t do what feels good. Choose to do what you know is right,” Meade told them.

Meade told the students of a common exercise he recommends to juvenile offenders in his courtroom. He asks them to write down three positive experiences that happened during the day, each night before bed. The idea is to focus on the good moments, which Meade said can benefit everyone.

Speaking to inclusion and positive experiences, South Gibson Superintendent Stacey Humbaugh asked the class of 2018 to stand. “I feel that this senior class has emulated, more than any other class, the thoughts of inclusion,” Humbaugh said to the standing students.

“You guys have chosen to build up other classes and to help them out,” she said, “and I don’t think you realize what a great characteristic and what a great trait that is in young men and women.”

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