The debate about gun violence and gun control in the United States is arguably one of the most heated and divisive debates this country faces, and that often ends up meaning we see offensive claims and attacks that often get very personal. But this time, it's gone too far. Early in the morning on June 5, Parkland student David Hogg was "swatted," and it should go without saying that it's absolutely not OK.
Hogg was the victim of a prank known as "swatting," when a team of heavily armed officers is sent to someone's home after receiving a hoax 911 call. In this case, the caller said Hogg had been kidnapped, according to The Guardian. The caller also said that a person with a weapon was inside the home, according to CBS News. But Hogg wasn't anywhere near his home in Parkland, Florida. He and his family were in Washington, D.C. when the Broward sheriff's office SWAT team showed up at his house, per The Guardian. After the officers realized the house was empty, they contacted the Hogg family to make sure they were safe.
Hogg, who was in Washington accepting an award for his activism, called the hoax a "silly prank" and said he he had "no clue" who would have called.
He said to CBS 4:
This is a serious attempt of people try to distract us from what we are trying to do here which is solve the gun violence epidemic and get youth out to vote. Just getting morally just leaders elected, not Democrats, not Republicans, but actual Americans and morally just people that will work to solve this issue when our current politicians haven’t. That’s all this is, it’s a silly prank that’s an attempted distraction from what we are doing to here and that is to save children’s lives.
Shortly after finding out about the call, the 18-year-old tweeted, "I could really use a chocolate chip muffin right now."
It should really go without saying that this is not a joke, and it is not funny. "Swatting" is not just a prank, it's seriously dangerous and not at all OK. In cases of swatting, police believe they are responding to a high-stakes, potentially violent situation and could be more prone to shooting and possibly killing someone, according to Vox.
And that's not a hypothetical. Andrew Finch, a 28-year-old man in Witchita, Kansas, was shot and killed by police in his home in December 2017 after a fake phone call sent them to Finch's home. The caller allegedly initiated the swatting because of an argument in an online multiplayer game. Finch wasn't even in the argument, but his address was posted. The alleged caller was charged with involuntary manslaughter, and at a May 2018 hearing, his lawyer told Oxygen.com that Finch's death was caused by the police, and not the swatting call. The police department said that the responding officer believed he saw Finch reaching for a gun, and the Sedgwick County District Attorney declined to file charges against the officer. The case is yet to go to trial.
So clearly, this "prank" could potentially have cost Hogg his life. Authorities are investigating who made the call sending police to Hogg's home, but given the history of abuse he has endured so far, it's easy to believe the caller could be motivated by Hogg's politics and activism. If so, is this the price of speaking out? Having armed officers showing up at your door, ready to shoot? That flies in the face of any freedom of speech or expression.
Hogg has been a vocal critic of gun violence in the U.S. since surviving the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February. Hogg was one of the student leaders who organized the March for Our Lives movement, which held rallies against gun violence throughout the country. But that activism cast him into the public spotlight, and before long he was facing a number of personal attacks. Bloggers falsely claimed he was a paid crisis actor, InfoWars and Breitbart compared him to Adolf Hitler and Laura Ingraham, a Fox News host, sent a tweet mocking him for his college rejections, just to name a few.
In a video for Vox about how Hogg deals with his critics, he said he expected the criticism to be more focused on his policies than on him personally. Later in the video, he joked:
They've gone from saying I wasn't at the school at the time to saying that I'm a crisis actor to saying that I'm a 27-year-old that has a facelift to saying that I'm actually 135 years old and that I'm a, like, shape-shifting lizard, essentially. ... I mean, I don't know about you guys, but last time I checked, getting a facelift doesn't make your acting career any better.
Regardless of politics or beliefs on gun violence, having someone's life be put at risk is way too high of a price to pay for speaking out.