Free Speech

Kentucky Bill Would Make Insulting a Cop a Crime

Courts have widely upheld the First Amendment right to hurl choice words or gestures at police.

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Kentucky lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday that would make insulting or provoking a police officer a crime. 

The legislation, Senate Bill 211, passed out of a Senate committee by a 7-3 vote, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. The bill would make it a misdemeanor offense for someone to taunt "a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words, or by gestures or other physical contact, that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person."

The Kentucky bill is one of several introduced by state legislatures around the country aiming to crack down on anti-police protests following the national unrest over the police killing of George Floyd last year. In Florida, for example, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced legislation last September to enhance criminal penalties for protest-related crimes and block state funding to cities that cut their police budgets.

"In these riots, you see people getting up in officers' faces, yelling in their ears, doing everything they can to provoke a violent response," the Kentucky bill's sponsor, state Sen. Danny Carroll (R–Benton), told The Courier-Journal.

"This is not about lawful protest in any way, shape, form or fashion," Carroll continued. "This country was built on lawful protest, and it's something that we must maintain—our citizens' right to do so. What this deals with are those who cross the line and commit criminal acts."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky called the legislation "an extreme bill to stifle dissent." The law, if enacted, would no doubt be challenged on First Amendment grounds.

There's in fact a significant body of First Amendment and Fourth Amendment case law generated by cops retaliating against people who hurt their feelings—most of it firmly upholding the right to hurl choice words or gestures at public officials.

In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled in favor of a New York man who sued after he was arrested for disorderly conduct after flipping off a cop. The court held that the "ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity." (However, the 2nd Circuit would later dismiss a lawsuit by a man who was arrested after writing "fuck your shitty town bitches" on a mail-in traffic ticket.) In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which covers Kentucky, ruled in favor of a woman who was pulled over and ticketed for flipping off an officer. The 6th Circuit first upheld the free speech right to shout "fuck you" and flip off a police officer from a moving vehicle in 1997, drawing on the Supreme Court's famous 1971 decision in Cohen v. California, which upheld the right of a man to wear a jacket that said "fuck the draft" into a courthouse.

Despite this, similar cases keep popping up. In 2019, an Iowa man won a lawsuit after he was charged with third-degree harassment for posting on Facebook that a sheriff's deputy was a "stupid sum bitch" and "butthurt." Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit denied qualified immunity to a Minnesota police officer who pulled over and arrested a man for flipping her off.

The Kentucky legislation is ill-conceived, probably unconstitutional, and would simply give police another tool, in addition to old standbys such as obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct, to ticket people for what's known as "contempt of cop." This has already played out in other states, such as Pennsylvania, where The Appeal reported in 2018 that police were using hate crime laws to charge people with "ethnic intimidation" for insulting them. Such prosecutions have no place in a country of citizens, rather than subjects.

As Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote in 1987, in a ruling striking down a Houston ordinance that made it unlawful to oppose or interrupt a police officer, "The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state."

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  1. Stupid and unconstitutional, no question about it.

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    3. Would like to see their article on a meme maker being charged for 10 years.

      1. Never going to happen. Which doesn’t mean we should ever stop pestering Reason about it.

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      2. From Bootlicker Magazine?
        Lol
        Not gonna happen

        1. Nardz is senile

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      3. JesseAZ: “Would like to see their article on a meme maker being charged for 10 years.”

        Is this the one you mean?

        https://www.theverge.com/2021/1/27/22252583/twitter-vote-by-text-misinformation-hoax-arrested

        “Douglass Mackey of West Palm Beach, Florida, is accused of conspiring with others to spread election misinformation in 2016, which was designed to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote. He has been charged with violating the civil rights conspiracy statute and, if convicted, will face up to 10 years in prison.

        The complaint alleges that between September 2016 and November 2016, Mackey (who used the alias “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter) spread fake information to his followers, trying to convince voters that it was possible to cast their vote by sending a text message. “

        1. Yes. There are plenty of examples of both sides using the text vite/wrong day jokes on Twitter. He made funny tweets. He wasn’t trying to fraud elections.

          1. Well, it looks like bit more than just “tweets.” More like the internet version of a rather sophisticated parlor prank. But still, ten years??? Geez

            But then, that is the maximum penalty. Maybe the judge will laugh it out of court and make him promise not to do such naughty deeds ever again.

      4. Please, 10 years is only what he’d get if he refuses a reasonable plea deal. /sarc

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  2. Citizen: “I’d like to remain silent, sir”
    Officer: (pulling pistol out of holster) “how dare you question my authority! On the ground, NOW!!!”

    1. Pleading ‘not guilty’ is obstruction of justice!

      1. Get out of America. Dirty progtard. My country is not for your kind. Leave before the Mor-mon hordes deal with you.

  3. I need attention, so here’s another stupid post that I hope people respond to so I can flag their responses!

  4. “Kentucky Bill Would Make Insulting a Cop a Crime”

    Tell Kentucky Bill to go fuck himself.

    Oh, and tell Kentucky Mitch to fuck himself, too!

    1. LMAO!

    2. Kentucky Rand is OK, though.

      1. Nuh uh. Too many of his followers are white supremacists.

  5. would Kentucky Bill be okay with DK’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off? it sends a more appropriate message

  6. That is already a reality in a democratic socialist shithole called Germany. Can get juicy fines for it. Bravo, Kentucky.

    1. Though they’re not even really democratic socialists, just close enough to it so that everyone is a frustrated asshat and sucks police cock.

  7. “that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.”

    Wouldn’t a reasonable and prudent person remain unprovoked under those circumstances? (Unless, of course, the alleged provoker was calling that person an “asshole”.)

    1. And what about people who only hear profanity coming out of other people’s vocaliszings? They must think it normal.

      And then you have people with Tourette’s syndrome who could only fail from then, on, to keep an officer so Buckingham …

  8. I recall once in Denver I think a bicyclist made some insult of some kind to a couple of undercover cops working the scalpers at Coors Field, and they beat the shit out of him.

    1. STL was like that too … used to meet scalpers at gas stations & grocery stores and now there’s stubhub lol

  9. Kill Mormon cops

    1. Moron pill smock.

    2. Can you show us on the doll where the Mormon touched you? Are you sure that he was a Mormon? He could have been a Catholic or Kevin Spacey playing a role.

    3. So go do it you weak little pussy. IRL you would grovel like the submissive bitch you truly are.

  10. Kentucky will need to replace the tin stars their cops wear with tin snowflakes.

  11. State legislators quite often pass legislation they know will almost certainly be found unconstitutional (after all, many of them are lawyers). They figure it will do them no harm–“don’t blame me, blame the courts.”

    1. They ought to be prosecuted for conspiracy to violate civil rights.

  12. I don’t understand people at all. I avoid breaking the law which drastically reduces my chances of meeting anyone in law enforcement. I would hate to be “a pain in the neck” like Freddy Gray.

    1. More and more things against the law every year. Unless you’re an extremely boring person, you’re probably a multiple felon already. Don’t be so sure you’ll be taken for a rough ride some time.

  13. Our local police force has an “Officer Bacon”. Under this law would I be allowed to address her as Officer Bacon?

    1. But if you tried to get her pregnant, you’d be charged with makin’ bacon.

  14. Building on previous examples:

    Would it be legal to tell a female cop, “I’m sorry Kermit broke up with you”?

    1. What am I saying, the Muppet Show is in and of itself a crime, according to recent reports.

  15. KillAllRednecks
    March.5.2021 at 5:51 pm
    “Nardz is senile”

    Can someone who engages this pile of ignorant shit suggest why anyone should?

    1. Mocking the retarded can be entertaining?

  16. OK, look, here’s an idea: why not enforce laws against arson, blocking traffic, destruction of property, looting, and that sort of thing?

    1. Oh that don’t happen in Kentucky. Mostly just meth, incest, and sittin’ out on the porch next to the busted refrigerator.

      (I actually like Kentucky, well parts of it anyway)

  17. “that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person”

    This is a completely subjective benchmark that is totally useless in making a determination of guilt.

    1. Not if you (seriously!) assume that all cops must be “reasonable and prudent” as a condition of their position.

  18. So just to be clear, the bill would only criminalize conduct that would make a reasonable person react violently. The proffered examples being getting up in someone’s face and/or screaming in someone’s ear (from the article I’m a bit hazy on if these are separate or single provocations). In other words, if this conduct was done between two random people and violence ensued, everyone got what they deserved. If this conduct is done between a protestor and a police officer and violence ensues, the cop is supposed to just take it (as the law currently stands)? I’m not adverse to limiting a cop’s response to citation/fining, but I’m not willing to just say that whoever claims the job-description “protestor” gets to have carte blanche to do whatever actions they wish.

    1. Laws already exist against certain types of noisemakers. That would include shouting in the ear.

      Peter Sellers used to get nostalgic about the days when they, as kids, used to set Bobbies on fire for a team effort. He went into detail …

  19. Do I even need to ask if holding up a phone is “insulting”?

    1. Or holding up the live cam while flipping off the cop?

  20. Would you, could you flip off a cop?
    Would you, could you call him stuff?
    Would you, could you end up in cuffs?

    Sticks and stones……..

  21. The day that bill needs to be passed would be the day when right is no longer on the side of law enforcement, and time has come to stock up on weaponry and shoot the undead as they attempt to unboard your windows.

    I don’t care if words appear to come out of someone’s mouth, but I do care if teeth do. More words may mean more charges, and that could help any case. People who can’t shut up probably can’t control their actions. We already have Miranda and the fifth amendment. Whatever would such a law to criminalize speech do other than give real criminals a head-start??

    I think people need to get in touch with each acceptable limitation that law enforcement may already use to handle unruly suspects being detained or arrested. Handcuffs, for example.

  22. It’s not “probably” unconstitutional, it’s OBVIOUSLY unconstitutional, and everyone supporting it is an asshole.

    -jcr

  23. Does it matter if it’s a law or not? Piss off an LEO and there’s a very good chance your getting a ride to jail. You think they give 2 fucks if the charges are dropped or not?

  24. All aboard to the Gulags !

  25. And to think how quickly this country forgot Sandra Bland…

    1. Smeone may have to break out the secret canera footage of her jail cell, seeing as secret operations go on all the time in a neverending battle of good vs. evil.

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