Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Giving a cop the finger?! Uh, it's not illegal

So if South Carolina's Joe Wilson can get reprimanded by the House of Representatives for yelling "You lie" to President Barack Obama as he gave a televised speech to a joint session of Congress, what should happen to David Hackbart who flipped off a cop?

OK. The two situations aren't that similar, except that both offenses were rudeness. But in Hackbart's case, the cop in Pittsburgh wrote him a ticket, citing the state's disorderly-conduct law, which bans obscene language and gestures.

Turns out though that Pennsylvania’s law is unconstitutional, so said a federal judge. Time magazine reports on the case this week and notes that the Supreme Court and other courts have consistently ruled that foul language, including exercising the middle finger, is a constitutionally protected form of expression. The judge threw out the citation and the $119 .75 in court costs. The ACLU though sued to prevent further episodes and require training for police so they’ll stop charging people with crimes they know aren’t crimes. The group said there were 188 instances from 2005 to 2007 in Pennsylvania in which police charged people under similar circumstances including one where an off-duty cop charged his neighbor he overheard cursing at her overflowing toilet. Say what?!!

Experts say many of these disorderly conduct charges are the result of police getting upset about being disrespected. The ACLU calls it "contempt of cop." Harvard prof. Henry Louis Gates' arrest is an example, they cite.

The Hackbart case was set for federal court last week but was postponed to allow the parties to settle out court, the judge said.

Interestingly, Hackbart never intended to flip off the cop. He’d gotten angry when a driver wouldn’t let him back up to get into a parking spot. He gave the driver the finger. A driver passing by said he shouldn’t do that in public, and Hackbart reflexively flipped him off too. Turns out that was a Pittsburgh cop, who promptly turned around and gave him a ticket.

Ouch! But Hackbart is a paralegal, and knew the citation was illegal and challenged it.

What do you think? Should flipping off someone be a crime, even a cop?

2 comments:

Koddy said...

I'm glad to know that giving a cop the finger is not illegal because that is something I enjoy doing, like when I have my viagra online which makes me feel so good

javieth said...

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