a bad precedent: Texas v. Castillo
When C.A. Reynerson walked into Keith's Comics in September 1999, it was clear he wasn't looking forward to catching up on the action in the second installment of the anime comic Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen. He was looking for a case.
Reynerson found what he was looking for in Demon Beast: The book was in the store's adult section, a spot generally more of a haven for violent comics rather than sexually explicit ones.
He purchased the book from 26 year-old Jesus Castillo, the store's manager.
In 2000, the police came to Keith's Comics and arrested Castillo. They didn't tell Castillo exactly what he was being arrested for. They took him downtown.
Eventually, he was charged with obscenity.
Keith's Comics had already been in touch with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) before this situation took place.
In a 2002 interview with Newsarama, Castillo said:
Well, we had heard rumblings that the store had been listed in a school newsletter that said Keith’s Comics was to be avoided. When Keith found out about that he called the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and faxed over the paper. So we got involved even before I was arrested. It must have been a year before I got arrested. So I found out that maybe they were investigating us through that time and finally I was arrested with the charges they wanted.
Obviously, because a second charge of obscenity came down:
David Little, PTA vice president of the nearby Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, bought a similar Demon Invasion book (Legend of the Overfiend) and sent it to Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss, who forwarded it to the police. Charges were again filed against Castillo.
Castillo was eventually convicted by a jury of the obscenity charge.
In an argument that sets the common view of comics back a good thirty years, the Texas state prosecutor secured a guilty verdict with a closing argument in which she said, “I don’t care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there, use your rationality, use your common sense. Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids. This is in a store directly across from an elementary school and it is put in a medium, in a forum, to directly appeal to kids. That is why we are here, ladies and gentlemen. … We’re here to get this off the shelf.”
The comic book in reference was in the adult part of the store. It was sold to an adult, by an adult.
The theory that comic books are strictly for kids is ridiculous. Anime, manga and the more violent of comic titles are not marketed to children. I don't see pitches on tv's or magazines saying "Hey, kids! Tell your mom to buy you the new fantastic issue of 100 Bullets!"
The CBLDF decided to appeal.
And now, the Supreme Court has ruled that they will not hear Castillo's case.
Texas did drop the second obscenity count, but the first still stands and they don't want to hear anymore of it.
Appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court was the last chance for a reversal of Castillo’s conviction, and the striking down of a dangerous precedent for comics shop owners across the country.
And a dangerous precedent for retailers of any kind of reading material. Where will prosecutors and overzealous puritans draw the line? Apparently, they have come to the conclusion that we are not, as a people, able to decided what is best for us. They have basically ruled that comics as a genre are worthless, and that adults shouldn't be reading them.
That's not even the scariest part. Think about the implications of this case. Future prosecutors and judges can cite Texas v. Castillo in future cases of this kind, as a precedent has been set that they can follow.
This opens the door for parents, teachers and neighborhood watch zealots to use the law to decide what should be sold and not sold in stores in their towns. It's censorpship by prosecution. Just because you think something is indecent does not mean we all follow by your standards. I, for one, can think for myself. I can walk into a comic book store and decide not to walk into the adult section. Or I can go in there if I want to. I can trust that my children will not be allowed to walk into that section, and I can trust in my parenting to know that they wouldn't even attempt it.
Keep in mind the comic in question, as I said before, was sold to an adult by an adult. I cannot fathom how, in anyone's mind, this can be construed as obscenity. It's the ubiquitous slippery slope from here. First comic books that have sex. Then they'll come for the ones with violence. Then they'll come for the Richie Rich comics for showing our children class warfare. Then they'll come for the skimpy bathing suits Betty and Veronica wear. They'll come for the X-Men and the Ninja Turtles and then they will start on you local Borders or Barnes and Noble, tearing apart the children's area, burning Harry Potter and Goosebumps books.
Sometimes the law works for us and sometimes, especially when it is abused, works against us.
Censorship is an ugly thing. Legalizing censorship is uglier.
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