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In Maryland, a Soviet-Style Punishment For a Novelist 441

Posted by timothy
from the thought-crime-in-maryland dept.
An anonymous reader writes A 23-year-old teacher at a Cambridge, Md. middle school has been placed on leave and—in the words of a local news report — "taken in for an emergency medical evaluation" for publishing, under a pseudonym, a novel about a school shooting. The novelist, Patrick McLaw, an eighth-grade language-arts teacher at the Mace's Lane Middle School, was placed on leave by the Dorchester County Board of Education, and is being investigated by the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, according to news reports from Maryland's Eastern Shore. The novel, by the way, is set 900 years in the future."
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In Maryland, a Soviet-Style Punishment For a Novelist

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  • Sue the bastards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by realmolo (574068) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @09:47AM (#47806917)

    Wow. Talk about a lawsuit that you are *guaranteed* to win.

    This guy is going to make millions.

    • by Jack9 (11421) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @09:48AM (#47806925)

      Let's hope so.

      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @02:02PM (#47809695)

        Let's hope so.

        So we should hope that someone can collect millions in taxpayer dollars because they were placed on paid leave? TFA is a biased opinion piece presenting third and fourth hand information, and quotes with no context, in a clear attempt to generate outrage, and thus pageviews. I have no idea what the real story is, but maybe everyone should just calm down and wait for the facts to come out from a reputable source that doesn't use "Soviet-Style Punishment" in their headline. The Soviets didn't send their enemies home on paid leave.

        • Re:Sue the bastards (Score:5, Informative)

          by Phreakiture (547094) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @02:31PM (#47809965) Homepage

          I have no idea what the real story is,

          There is a less hysterical piece at NewsOne [newsone.com], also this from the Washington Times [washingtontimes.com]. There is also an opposing opinion in the Baltimore Sun [baltimoresun.com].

          Does that help?

          • Re:Sue the bastards (Score:5, Informative)

            by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @03:03PM (#47810269)

            Does that help?

            Yes, that helps, since these sources contradict many of the "facts", and the main theme, of TFA:

            - His book The Insurrectionist [amazon.com] was published more than three years ago.
            - School authorities have been aware of the book since it was first published.
            - His book had little or no influence on the decision to place him on administrative leave.
            - The main reason for his suspension was a "bizarre" four page letter that he wrote to county officials, that raised mental health concerns.
            - He has not been arrested, and is not being charged with any offence (TFA does not say he was, buy many commenters here have assumed this).
            - It does not appear that his mental health evaluation was mandatory or coerced in anyway other than as a condition of returning to work.

            So it appears that there were some legitimate concerns about his mental health, and that authorities' response to those concerns was measured and reasonable.

    • Re:Sue the bastards (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mysidia (191772) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @09:54AM (#47806981)

      I don't know. It sounds like they kidnapped him in the night, forced him to leave hims hometown, and have imprisoned him somewhere against his will, just based on a fictional novel --- probably a jail or psych ward, where they are already administering drugs, so he won't have the mental faculties left to pursue any action, not that he could without ability to travel and speak to an attorney.

      McLaw was suspended by the Dorchester County Board of Education pending an investigation and is no longer in the area. He is currently at a location known to law enforcement and does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere.

      • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@gmaiWELTYl.com minus author> on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:52AM (#47807541) Journal

        Someone should write a dystopian sci-fi novel about this (oh wait/Yo Dawg...).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jlb.think (1719718)
        Law enforcment is not bound by HIPPA, but are hesitant to divulge what may be considered private under HIPPA. I have had people close to me sent to psychiatric institutions and once they are there the staff won't tell anyone they are even there without a waiver being signed by the patient. This is very frustrating when the police show up and hall off your loved one, and they seem to disappear into a blackhole. A few days later I did recieve a call. But if a patient was sufficiently drugged and unable or
    • Re:Sue the bastards (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jythie (914043) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @09:59AM (#47807029)
      The person's chances are not all that good. Unless the union backs them up (and even then it can be a stretch) schools are pretty hard to go up against. "Think of the children", while often mocked, is a pretty powerful rallying cry for local officials who might be worried about parental outrage or practicing 'cover your ass' security where it is better to come down hard and be seeing to be doing something then risk something happening and be blamed for not acting. The life of some middle school teacher does not even begin to factor in.
      • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:08AM (#47807103) Homepage
        The schools are good at keeping people from teaching.

        But they do this by paying LARGE amounts of money.

        If the union backs him, he will probably get his job.

        If the union does not back him, he won't get his job, he will instead get a ton of money.

      • by chemicaldave (1776600) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:10AM (#47807123)

        "Think of the children"

        The book is 900 years in the future. I think you mean "Think of the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren."

      • The person's chances are not all that good. Unless the union backs them up (and even then it can be a stretch) schools are pretty hard to go up against. "Think of the children", while often mocked, is a pretty powerful rallying cry for local officials who might be worried about parental outrage or practicing 'cover your ass' security where it is better to come down hard and be seeing to be doing something then risk something happening and be blamed for not acting. The life of some middle school teacher does not even begin to factor in.

        Nah... I don't live in Maryland, but in my state... in my highschool, one of our teachers that was in his mid 30's started "Dating" a freshman. She broke up with him, so he started sending her letters, stalking her, finally ended up crawling in her bedroom window one night and her dad caught him. They fired him, he was charged and convicted of statutory, but then a judge forced the school to hire him back, with back pay. As far as I know he's still teaching there. Totally ostracized and they gave him a "Sho

        • by jythie (914043) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:47AM (#47807495)
          On the other hand, in my high school we had a teacher with whom a freshman became obsessed including showing up drunk at his house. Even though he never did anything with her and rebuffed her advances he was fired because parents were concerned about one of their daughters and a teacher.

          Meanwhile one of our other teachers, a woman, was known to sleep with students and married one after he graduated, nothing was ever done to her. The difficulty of firing a teacher pretty much comes down to how much PR is involved and if the union feels it will be better served getting rid of the person vs keeping them, either due to internal or external political concerns.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          convicted of statutory and the school was forced to hire him back? i'm not believeing it until you link to a news article

        • You're doing it wrong. It's easy to get fired as a teacher. Just start teaching critical thinking, how to express yourself, creativity, questioning of authority and independent thought, and see how long it is until you get fired.
      • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:52AM (#47807549) Journal

        Think of the children is the battle cry of Tyrants everywhere. I won't vote for anyone, even if I agree 99% with them politically, if they make any statement similar to "do it for the children". I urge every slashdotter to do the same this election cycle, even if it means voting for the "other guy". AND let the Politicians know that hiding behind skirts and baby strollers is what terrorists do.

        • That would mean not voting for the Repubmocrats at the very least, or more likely, abstaining altogether...

      • UNION? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by srobert (4099)

        That's exactly why we must destroy what's left of the unions. As usual they're the last thing standing in the way of a fascist state.

    • Re:Sue the bastards (Score:5, Interesting)

      by donscarletti (569232) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:13AM (#47807161)
      If his books are any good in the slightest, then he's going to make a killing on this publicity.
    • Not necessarily (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:17AM (#47807191)

      Wow. Talk about a lawsuit that you are *guaranteed* to win.

      This guy is going to make millions.

      My best friend is an attorney and we've known each other for years. He has taught me a lot about how the law really works in the USA (I live in the US too by the way). Literally anything can happen in court. You may be right in that the odds may be good that he'll be able to sue and win, but it all depends on factors we can't control or predict. The judge the case gets is important. If it's a jury trial, the outcome may have more to do with the abilities of the lawyers involved than the actual merits of the case. Then if you don't like the verdict and appeal it, you go back to square one because some appellate judges tend to favor one side over the other. You get a really conservative appellate male judge in the Scalia mold and you could find that he'll basically allow the government to do anything if they feel that public safety was potentially at risk. Keep in mind too that the author may be greatly exaggerating what happened to him and what really happened may be a lot less sensational than the news report.

      • Re:Not necessarily (Score:5, Informative)

        by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:25AM (#47807267) Journal

        Keep in mind too that the author may be greatly exaggerating

        Keep in mind that nobody's spoken to the author. Sheriff Phillips is the one telling everyone that he "is currently at a location known to law enforcement and does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere."

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          You know I really hate the paranoid, tin foil hat, the sky is falling, libertarian nut cases that tend to post all the time on Slashdot....
          But even I have to say "WHAT THE HECK?" to this story. Wow this is just over the top.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hopefully, but probably not. The author is black.

    • by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @11:09AM (#47807761)

      The reports (the Atlantic article is an opinion piece about the local reports regarding the incident) are too sketchy at this point to decide if there's a good probable cause for the teacher to be arrested (besides his having written a presumably controversial book, which is not a good reason for somebody in a presumably democratic country to get arrested).

      What it does reveal is the attitude of the local reporters who appear to be somewhat supportive or at the very least neutral to the police action. I know, a news report is supposed to be objective. But I don't see any mention in the quoted parts of the news reports about the teacher's free speech rights. The "first ammendment" comment is in the Atlantic article not the news reports. Since these are local news reporters they probably also reflect local biases. Possible threats to safety are given more importance than any free speech rights.

  • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @09:48AM (#47806927)
    Book burns you.
    • by SQLGuru (980662) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @09:54AM (#47806977) Journal

      Stephen King is probably lucky he lives in a different area of the northeast.......otherwise, he'd be on trial for all sorts of sick demented things.

      Seriously, though -- if the teacher had other suspicious behaviours, it would be one thing, but just writing a fictional story based on an area he's familiar with isn't enough to indicate criminal thought.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    He should have made the plot around child molesting instead of shooting! Geeze!

  • Prequel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Roger W Moore (538166) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @09:52AM (#47806963) Journal
    Well after this he'll have plenty of great material for a 900-year prequel that will tackle some different, but still very troubling, social issues.
  • by anthony_greer (2623521) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @09:56AM (#47806987)

    I know its a bit of a stretch of the mission, but based on what is known as of now, I think the EFF (and maybe even the ACLU) should come to this guys aid. Is this sort of thing exactly why we establish these sorts of organizations - to protect free speech be it online or on paper?

  • Slow on the take (Score:5, Insightful)

    by just_another_sean (919159) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:04AM (#47807071) Homepage Journal

    As if the story itself could not be more horrible I can't believe the books were published in 2011 and 2013 and just now they decide to go after him. Either he pissed off someone high up and they just found a reason to go after the guy or some bored cop just got around to discovering fiction...

    Unbelievable!

    • by Jesrad (716567)

      Well, there is a word [liberty.me] that defines accurately what is happening here, but because this word has been slowly stripped of its rich meaning and turned into an empty slur, most people have stopped using it appropriately, instead merely employing it as a slur. For shame, really, because its attached historical lessons are desperately needed these days.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        For shame, really, because its attached historical lessons are desperately needed these days.

        Don't worry, we're about to get re-educated on the matter. And this time there isn't any "free world" left to come to the rescue, just Stalin - er, Putin.

      • by iluvcapra (782887) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @11:44AM (#47808219)

        "Fascism" was a political system practiced in several Mediterranean European countries in the early part of the 20th century. It usually entailed economic and cultural coordination by the state, a personality cult around a leader, a single-party or sham democratic system, national idealism, and militant, expansionist foreign policy. It's applicability outside of this narrow context is hotly contested, you can start fights among historians by asking "Was Falangist Spain Fascist?" or "Was Nazi Germany Fascist?"

        Committing a guy for writing a book is many things, but it ain't fascism. It's people like you who apply it scattershot to every instance of emotive negativity toward the state that have stripped the word of its "rich meaning." You should know who said this:

        In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

  • I read the opening paragraph of his book on Amazon. The man *is* guilty of a crime. Assault and battery on the world of literature!

    Really, his stuff is "dark and stormy night" bad. Toss him in jail. No, wait, that's not a severe enough punishment for what he's done. Something more extreme is required. I know, make him teach middle school!

  • Set In The Past (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:06AM (#47807085)

    Instead of 900 years in the future, he should have set it in the past. Or at least included dinosaurs. You'd never get in trouble for writing about Dinosaurs... Oops, sorry. Forget about that. [ibtimes.com]

    In all seriousness, though, school shootings are a problem. However, I'm much more afraid of my oldest son (who begins middle school in a couple of days) getting in trouble for someone mistaking something he says/does as being a threat against the school than I am afraid that someone will walk into the building and kill a bunch of people. (My oldest is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and anxiety disorder. He can tend to be clueless about "other meanings" to the things he says or how people might take offense to certain phrases that he means in an innocent manner. Not a good combination with overzealous administrators who are jumping at the slightest whiff of trouble.)

    • The problem is that apparently some officials believe that school shootings would somehow become less of a problem if nobody is allowed to talk or write about them...

  • More to the story? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Media Archivist (3478167) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:08AM (#47807099) Homepage

    All of the stories I have read about this use the same reference: WBOC. There is, as of yet, no other source. I think there is more to this story than has been reported so far. I am not suggesting the lack of facts is a coverup, just that it is still in the early stages of falling into place.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:09AM (#47807113) Journal
    Only a verifiable head case would write about a school shooting 900 years in the future. I have it on good authority that the last 'chemical/kinetic homicide' was recorded in the waning days of the Transcend Uprising in 2234. By 2914, the most common spree killings, by method, are 'engineered retroviruses', 'covert antimatter decanting', and nanoassembler override.

    Also, ever since Heuristic Neural Patterning became economically viable in the mid 24th century, 'school' exists as little more than a footnote in some of the low level neural patterning modules. I'm not sure why you'd expect to find enough people for a mass casualty incident visiting one.
  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:10AM (#47807125) Homepage

    There is a petition at Change.org requiring the county school superintendent to apologize.
    https://www.change.org/p/dr-he... [change.org]

  • So in the original piece there is one commenter ranting about how the paper is not publishing 'the rest of the story' (which will vindicate the board of education and police) because they are enjoying the traffic they are getting.. yet I am not seeing this poster actually present any new information.

    Has anyone heard anything that might even slightly justify this.. ahm... I am not sure it is even an 'arrest'... hrm... event?
    • by jythie (914043)
      (adding)

      According to people who claim to 'know more', he was using aliases for real life things like when he applied for the job, not just pseudonyms for writing. People claiming to be parents have also chimed in saying there was 'real fear' around this person, but I would not be surprised if this fear came after the board discovered his books as opposed to before.

      There are also claims he sent a 'disturbing letter' to the school board, but 'it was not their place to update with facts', so I am skeptical
      • (adding)

        According to people who claim to 'know more', he was using aliases for real life things like when he applied for the job, not just pseudonyms for writing. People claiming to be parents have also chimed in saying there was 'real fear' around this person, but I would not be surprised if this fear came after the board discovered his books as opposed to before.

        There are also claims he sent a 'disturbing letter' to the school board, but 'it was not their place to update with facts', so I am skeptical of the poster.

        yea, the only way this could really end up making any sense was that some old lady librarian at the school found his books, got concerned and went to the school-board/police... who had to talk to him for due diligence, and when they did talk to him, they found out completely by accident that the dude was actually nuts. Maybe he threatened suicide or took a swing at a cop? Getting someone committed is NOT easy, I've tried doing it before, it's nearly impossible.

        If they really committed him for writing 2 book

        • by jythie (914043)
          It would not be unheard of though. This is a small town going into an election year, and here you have a scary angry black man associated with scary fiction who might murder your children so the big responsible sheriff and school board sweep in to protect their loving citizens.

          In the threads on the local site I see a lot of parents chiming in that they are glad this happened, that it is better to be safe then sorry, or even going as far as to say that anyone who would own (much less write) such books is n
  • Voltaire (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:19AM (#47807213) Homepage

    It's awesome that his pen name was Voltaer [amazon.com] which sounds like a reference to Voltaire [wikipedia.org] who was fighting for civil rights and had his books burned.

    It sounds like this guy is brilliant. He was smart enough to use a pen name to hide his writings from his students, and also smart enough to choose a pen name that mocks anyone who uses these writings to defame him. Clearly, Voltaire should now be required reading by Dorchester county students.

    • by Zeromous (668365)

      I was beginning to think I was the only one who caught this. Put this in your pack for the next time you need to explain irony and coincidence with someone.

    • by chooks (71012)

      It was panglossian for him to think this would all turn out for the best.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've only read the Amazon precis, but it *seems* like the shooting is a plot device against which the author has characters act and react. Not all that different than Nevil Shute using a nuclear war as the backdrop for "On The Beach."

    I am, frankly, of two minds about this. On one hand, possibly support a glory seaking attention hound. On the other, be tracked and branded as someone who "supports violence in schools" by buying the e-book. On the gripping hand, just read the thing myself and make up my ow

  • But it's what happens to you afterwards that reveal its true qualities.
  • Hang on. Everyone is jumping to the conclusion that a perfectly normal teacher just happened to be grabbed and taken for an "emergency medical evaluation" because he had innocently written a book. It is also quite possible that he is actually suffering from mental illness -- schizophrenia often manifests itself in early adulthood, for example -- and that his books were originally written as a coping mechanism for the early stages of illness. Remember, approximately 1% of the population will suffer from schi

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      The most likely explanation is that the teacher's behavior had grown erratic and he had shown signs of mental disorder that caused grave concern in his co-workers and friends.

      Sorry, not buying that without any evidence to suggest it.

      I think the most likely explanation is that overly paranoid police have detained someone for a trumped up "emergency medical evaluation" because he wrote a book on a controversial topic, and because law enforcement can't accept that you could write a piece of fiction and not hav

  • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @10:52AM (#47807553)
    There should be a Do Everything Wrong Day where students and teachers alike do things like play dodgeball, cops and robbers, offer pats on the back and hugs, bring copies of Mad Magazine and Guns and Ammo to school, call each other names, walk to school, say they look nice today, and so on and so on. Then everyone lodges official complaints against everyone else, so administrators now will either have to either suspend everyone and then crawl through hundreds if not thousands of hearings, or agree that a lot of the rules against these things are ludicrous if not completely anti-American.

    The slogan for the day? "If everyone is in trouble, nobody is."

    .
  • by Joe Gillian (3683399) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @11:00AM (#47807643)

    Stephen King did something very similar to this years and years ago, under virtually the same circumstances. He wrote a book called "Rage", under a pseudonym, which was about a fictional school shooting in a setting that would've amounted to the present when the book was written. Of course, the shooter in Rage was also portrayed sympathetically (he goes insane because all of his classmates are assholes). There were even cases where the shooters in actual school shootings were carrying around copies of Rage, which made him (voluntarily) pull the book from publication.

    Yet strangely, I don't recall anything about Stephen King being arrested in the middle of the night and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @11:02AM (#47807665) Homepage

    It would be useful to know if McLaw is under investigation for behavior other than writing two novels

    Yes, it would be very useful to know that before people go writing articles about how this guy has been locked up (if that) for (and only for, seems to be the implication) writing two novels. Oop, too late.

  • "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"

  • Habeas corpus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DigitalSorceress (156609) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @11:07AM (#47807741)

    Seriously, where is he now?

    How is it possible for a person to simply disappear and have their whereabouts listed as "known to law enforcement".

    IANAL, but it seems to me that someone with standing should file a writ of Habeas corpus because people should not just disappear like this in a first world country.

    • WE ALL HAVE STANDING! I am living in this state, what the fuck? If the police come to disappear me for writing a book or reading some novel they don't like or whatever, I will send bodies back. You can imagine the shitstorm this will start and how it will affect my quality-of-life.

      Do you know how many courts have ruled it self-defense to react to the police with lethal force if they try to arrest you wrongfully? In America we have dozens of these cases at state and federal levels, establishing clearly

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @02:09PM (#47809751) Homepage

    The problem here is that the press reports are just rehashes of what the cops are putting out. Somebody should find this guy and interview him. He may be in hiding for reasons of his own.

    His book is self-published on Amazon [amazon.com]. It's been out since 2011, and you can read a sample there. This guy is not the next Steven King. A typical sentence: "As Zea approaches her partner she cannot restrain herself from hyperventilating as she peers at the black embossed letters on the translucent glass sign above the entrance to the central atrium".

    Today, the Los Angeles Times quotes cops [latimes.com] as saying "Everybody knew about the book in 2012", and that this is more about a four-page letter he recently sent to officials in Dorchester County, containing "complaints of alleged harassment and an alleged possible crime". There may be more clarity over the next few days, now that the story is getting attention.

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