Kentucky’s state Senate has passed a bill that raises profound concerns over free speech. The bill could make it a crime to”taunt” a police officer, an action that could sweep an collection of protected speech under the code and could face severe constitutional challenges.
The bill contains the following provision:
(1) A Man is guilty of disorderly conduct in the second degree if in a public location and with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or wantonly creating a risk thereof, he:
(a) Engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior; (b) Makes unreasonable noise; (c) Refuses to obey an official order to disperse issued to maintain public security in dangerous proximity to a fire, hazard, or other crisis;[ or] (d) Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose; or (e) Accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges that a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words, or by expressions or other bodily contact, that could have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the view of a reasonable and thoughtful individual.
Police officers are agents of the country and, because of this, are often the focus of insults and taunts by citizens. The majority of us snore such verbal attacks however they often reflect deeper political or societal issues.
Officers are trained to resist impulses which have”a direct tendency to provoke violent response” among citizens. Courts have upheld the right of citizens to mistreat authorities, which is an unfortunate aspect of policing. Therefore , in 2015, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that police could not detain a 17-year-old who called them”pigs.” Associate Chief Justice Charles Johnson, in the majority opinion, wrote that when”individuals exercise their constitutional rights to criticize how the police are managing a situation, they cannot be concerned about devoting a criminal conviction for obstruction”
In Kentucky, the host, Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll, said that he was responding to protests previous summer and had a specific sensitivity to such abuse as a former police officer.
Carroll’s motivation is commendable but I have severe doubts that his law is constitutional. We ask a whole lot from our officials. But this legislation could curtail core protected speech under an ambiguous criminal standard.