September 16th, 2009

Yes, we do have the right to flip off cops 0

By Carlos Miller


As much as cops hate to hear us say it, we pay their salaries. They work for us. They are public servants.

No different than any other government employee.

And the Constitution guarantees us the right to use profane language against them, including the physical act of extending our middle fingers in a flip off gesture against them.

Hell, even NWA were never arrested for singing “Fuck the Police” back in the 1990s.

But before NWA, there was Miami’s own 2 Live Crew,  who were arrested in a Broward club for singing obscene songs in a case that was dismissed in court.

The rap group shot back with the song Banned in the USA (above video) and the song Fuck Martinez, which was a reference to Florida Governor Bob Martinez as well as to Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro, who had ordered the group arrested.

So why it a Pittsburgh man having to defend this right in a federal suit after he was cited for flipping off an officer?

That’s the question that Time Magazine is asking in an article this week about a man named David Hackbart.

In 2006, Hackbart was trying to back into a parking space but the car behind him wouldn’t give him enough room. So Hackbart flipped the driver off, telling him to back up.

Hackbart then heard a voice tell him to not make the rude gesture in public. Hackbart turned around and flipped that guy off.

Only the second guy was a cop who cited him for, what else but, disorderly conduct.

A judge ended up throwing the case out on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. And a civil suit against the city was set to go before a federal judge this week but now the two sides are negotiating a settlement.

The problem is, as we all know, this is hardly an isolated incident.

The question, however, is whether the city has a pattern of tolerating this kind of constitutional violation. The ACLU says it found 188 cases from 2005 to 2007 in which people were cited under similar circumstances, despite an entry in the police department’s training manual making clear that vulgar speech is not illegal.

The question was set to go to trial in Federal District Court last week, but the matter was delayed at the last moment while the two sides explored a settlement. The city’s law department declined to comment on the case.

The article explores a couple of other cases, including the Henry Gates case. It also links to a couple of other Time articles that explores the fuzziness of the disorderly conduct charge. And the history behind it.

And it quotes an ACLU official who explains the term “contempt of cop,” which we are all familiar with on this blog.

“The law is clear that people have the constitutional right to use profanity, especially when it comes to government officials, because that is a form of political speech,” Walczak says. “But despite that, we have police officers regularly misapplying the law to punish people who offend them — that’s really what it comes down to.”


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