Defendant relies heavily on the fact that Duran was making obscene gestures toward him and yelling profanities in Spanish while traveling along a rural Arizona highway. We cannot, of course, condone Duran’s conduct; it was boorish, crass and, initially at least, unjustified. Our hard-working law enforcement officers surely deserve better treatment from members of the public. But disgraceful as Duran’s behavior may have been, it was not illegal; criticism of the police is not a crime.
[T]he First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers…
The freedom of individuals to oppose or challenge police action verbally without thereby risking arrest is one important characteristic by which we distinguish ourselves from a police state…
Thus, while police, no less than anyone else, may resent having obscene words and gestures directed at them, they may not exercise the awesome power at their disposal to punish individuals for conduct that is not merely lawful, but protected by the First Amendment.
Inarticulate and crude as Duran’s conduct may have been, it represented an expression of disapproval toward a police officer with whom he had just had a run-in. As such, it fell squarely within the protective umbrella of the First Amendment and any action to punish or deter such speech–such as stopping or hassling the speaker–is categorically prohibited by the Constitution…
No matter how peculiar, abrasive, unruly or distasteful a person’s conduct may be, it cannot justify a police stop unless it suggests that some specific crime has been, or is about to be, committed, or that there is an imminent danger to persons or property.
Some people possessed of less than thoughtful rightwing political ideology think this is some silly liberal construct. Others suggest, as Lou Dobbs did last night, that we have elevated the rights of jerks at the expense of the rights of our police, who are there to protect and serve us.
But this is no liberal plot, as Judge Kozinksi has yet to make it to any of the clubhouse meetings, and wouldn’t get in anyway since he doesn’t know the secret handshake. Dobbs, whose stint on CNN only makes sense in light of the fact that Rick Sanchez is on the air, is confused as always. And citizens retain those rights they have not given up to the government.
This cannot be made clear enough: Hurting a police officer feelings by saying mean things to him, being uncooperative, even belligerent, making obscene gestures, berating the officer, even dressing his mother in imaginary army boots, is not a crime. It’s not necessarily the smartest thing to do, but it is not a crime. It’s not. No, it’s not. It’s just not a crime.
And you officers reading this (and I know you do), suck it up.