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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

 
Being stupid and disrespectful is not against the law

by digby

I supposed he's lucky he didn't get tasered on some pretext and thrown into the hospital:
Robert Bell had just left a West Village bar last August when four New York City police officers walked by. A moment later, the Edison man "expressed his dislike and distrust for police officers by raising his middle finger toward them," according to a lawsuit he just filed.

In other words, Bell gave the cops the finger.

One of the officers noticed and confronted Bell, seeking an explanation.
"Because I don’t like cops," the financial services recruiter replied. He was then handcuffed, taken into custody and held in a jail cell for two hours before being released and issued a summons for disorderly conduct. Bell’s criminal case was soon dismissed when the arresting officer, Peter Play, failed to appear in court.

There is this little thing we call the First Amendment to the constitution. It applies to all kinds of unpleasant speech, from right wing CEOs expressing their horror at gay marriage to corporate executives spending their shareholders money in elections to buy influence in government to Larry Flynt's sickening misogyny. But there is nothing the First Amendment is supposed to protect more vigilantly than a citizen's right to verbally insult his government, whether it's a policeman on the street or the president of the United States. It is the most fundamental purpose of the free speech right and for these thuggish officers to abuse their power and call such insults "disorderly conduct" is chilling.

I believe this happens all the time, actually. Many of the tasering incidents I chronicle are the result of citizens failing to be properly respectful toward authority rather than threatening to the police or others. It's a fine line, I understand, and I suppose the cops can be forgiven for failing to see the difference in many cases. But that is all the more reason for not using pain compliance willy nilly.

As I said, this fellow is lucky that he wasn't shot with 50,000 volts of electricity for his "disorderly conduct." In plenty of jurisdictions, they would have done it and all they would have had to do is say they "felt" threatened to justify it. It happens every day.

The best cops don't react to "disrespect" and understand they have better things to do than police the attitudes of the citizens. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of officers who have internalized the military mentality that permeates our police agencies these days and feel that they are in a war zone where attitudes are a threat.

This case is pretty clear cut. And the victim is filing a federal law suit:

Legal experts and law enforcement officials say Bell has a case, and courts have generally backed his position in similar instances. What he did could be seen as offensive in some circles or defiant in others, they say, but it was not illegal.

"I can’t arrest you for giving me the finger, any more than I can arrest you for calling me nasty names," said Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who is now an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "Sure it’s stupid and disrespectful. But it’s not against the law."
That's right, being stupid and disresepectful is not against the law. I wish more of my fellow citizens understood this, much less the police who are often far too quick to take offense and call it a threat.

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