Via Eugene Volokh at WaPo/VC, a post whose title demands repeating:
Your mother, officer, was a hamster, and your bicycle smells of elderberries
A. A person commits harassment [a misdemeanor] if, with intent to harass or with knowledge that the person is harassing another person, the person: …
7. TAUNTS OR MALICIOUSLY THROWS AN OBJECT AT OR IN THE DIRECTION OF A VULNERABLE USER OF A PUBLIC WAY AS DEFINED IN SECTION 28‑913….
E. For the purposes of this section, “harassment” means conduct that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed or harassed and the conduct in fact seriously alarms, annoys or harasses the person….
C. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS SECTION: … 2. “VULNERABLE USER OF A PUBLIC WAY” MEANS A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, AN EMERGENCY RESPONDER OR A WORKER IN A STATE HIGHWAY WORK ZONE AS DEFINED IN SECTION 28-652 WHILE IN THE COURSE OF OFFICIAL DUTIES…
It goes on to include the taunting of people who ride bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards, etc. Parts of the law, such as throwing things at people, would, with some modification (such as excluding the throwing of an unused tissue, for example, since some will argue that the throwing of a used tissue could spread disease) would be one thing, but taunts?
Taunts? As Eugene says:
Seriously? It should be specifically made a crime to “taunt” police officers in ways that causes them (and would cause a reasonable person) to be seriously annoyed? And bicyclists and skateboarders, too?
If you wonder what the impetus might be for the great many folks on the internets constantly whining about how anything that hurts their feelings is a CRIME, CRIME, CRIME, the enactment of laws like this suggests why.
But this law holds a special place for the taunting of a police officer, who is defined as a “vulnerable user of a public way.” Dear cops, have people really hurt your feelings that badly? Is that why you pre-emptively use such foul language when addressing people on the street? Is it really just a defense mechanism to protect your fragile self-esteem? Do you cry yourselves to sleep at night after returning home from a day of beating people to make sure that no harm befalls you?
If so, I would like to apologize on behalf of all the mean people who have uttered unpleasant words to you. We never knew. We thought you guys were pretty tough, enough so that when we suggested that you miss a day at Dunkin’ Donuts, you could laugh it off.
The truth is, you look pretty dashing in that blue uniform, and even more so when you don all that ex-military body armor and black fatigues. Kinda ninja like, if you squint and don’t think too hard. No, really. You look pretty cool. I bet a certain kind of gal digs it.
No one actually farted in your general direction. They just said that to gross you out.
The problem is that few of us realized just how vulnerable you were. The whole you’ve-got-weapons thing and we don’t made us think you weren’t vulnerable at all, and that if anyone was vulnerable, it was us at your mercy.
So we’re sorry. Not that you couldn’t go with a little exercise, but you probably know that already and hear too much about it at home. You don’t need us taunting you about it. Or about your being unpleasant to be around when you’re angry. No doubt your wife told you about that too.
The Arizona law offers another opportunity to not only ponder the implications of laws criminalizing speech, but about how the use of artfully crafted language gives rise to the appearance of justification in the absence of substance.
What is “taunting?” The law defines it as a subset of harassment that “seriously alarmed, annoyed or harassed” (note how the definition of harassment includes something that “harassed”? Helpful, right?) a specific person. The problem is that it can only be determined by the sensibilities of the “specific person.” They are “seriously annoyed” because something seriously annoys them. Like, “your mother was a hamster.” Ah, the annoyance. It’s more than I can bear.
The proliferation of such laws in an effort to cleanse society of hurt feelings and compel people, under pain of conviction, to only utter words that please the listener, not only offends the First Amendment, but would create an insipid world. Someone says your idea is stupid? Hurtful. Someone says you’re not very good at something that you’re not, in fact, very good at? Hurtful. Lock them up for making me feel bad.
Yet, before you nod your head in agreement, ponder whether you really mean it or only when it applies to the other guy. Are you willing to accept your ox being gored on occasion? Are your shoulders broad enough to withstand someone calling you ugly? Even if you’re a cop, or on a bike?
And yes, I know that I really don’t need to rush whenever the donuts come out of the oven, just like those I taunt. But if you want to tell me so, I promise not to file a criminal complaint against you. And my father does smell like elderberries. We must get past criminalizing hurt feelings.