Disorderly conduct. Disturbing the peace. Obstruction of justice. And the list of ludicrous charges goes on and on when law enforcement seek to exert power over people innocent of any crime other than exercising the rights given to them by the Constitution.
Along with heinous programs such as the NYPD’s stop and frisk which essentially legalizes profiling by the police, a recent issue being debated in the courts is whether or not engaging in a verbal, non-threatening argument with profanity with a police officer is an arrest-able offense. This video shows a situation, where although the individual wasn’t arrested, the officers make several threats to arrest the man for disorderly conduct for talking loudly at the intersection, and using non-inflammatory curse words.
In Seattle, a child was arrested on obstruction of justice charges when he yelled profanities at officers who he thought were about to beat his sister with a nightstick. The state Supreme Court threw out the conviction of the child. Associate Chief Justice Charles Johnson said that when citizens criticize “how the police are handling a situation, they cannot be concerned about risking a criminal conviction for obstruction.”
Chief Justice Barbara Madsen also pointed out the racial disparity in the use of the obstruction of justice charge in the city. According to the Office of Professional Accountability, 51% of Obstruction of Justice Charges filed in the city were against African Americans, even though they make up only 8% of the city’s population. New York’s Supreme Court also issued a similar ruling in the case of Richard Gonzales, who cursed at police officers in a subway station, which they used as a reason to illegally search him. This has been an issue in law enforcement for a while, and it is a positive sign to see courts issuing these rulings in favor of the First Amendment.