A bill approved by a Kentucky Senate committee would make it a crime to insult or taunt police officers if it would “provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.”
The bill is a response to riots last summer that saw activists “getting up in officers’ faces, yelling in their ears, doing everything they can to provoke a violent response,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Danny Carroll.
“I’m not saying the officers do that, but there has to be a provision within that statute to allow officers to react to that. Because that does nothing but incite those around that vicinity and it furthers and escalates the riotous behavior,” he continued.
This may be true as far as screaming in an officer’s face encouraging and exciting other protesters. It’s also true that provoking a violent response is the goal of the screaming and taunting — it’s been a tactic of the left since the 1960s.
Since then, officers have been trained in what to expect at a demonstration. So is this law really necessary?
The bill kept language making a person guilty of disorderly conduct — a Class B misdemeanor — if they accost, insult, taunt, or challenge “a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words, or by gestures or other physical contact, that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.”
State Sen. David Yates, a Louisville Democrat, criticized the bill’s language, saying police officers he knows are too professional to retaliate violently simply because of words, according to the paper.
“I don’t believe that any of my good officers are going to be provoked to a violent response because somebody does a ‘yo mama’ joke, or whatnot,” Yates said.
Indeed, the idea that a “reasonable and prudent person (cop) would have a ‘tendency’ to respond violently” seems to be an open invitation to the police to abandon their training and mix it up with the rioters.
Meanwhile, Corey Shapiro, an attorney with the ACLU of Kentucky, said “the idea that the legislature would be criminalizing speech in such a way is offensive.”
“Verbally challenging police action — even if by insult or offensive language — is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Shapiro told the Courier-Journal. “And the First Amendment protects people’s ability to express themselves, even if it’s using offensive words to the police.”
There have been exceptions carved out for the First Amendment and “fighting words” is certainly one of them. It would depend on what the protester was screaming, not that they were in the officer’s face or yelling in his ear.
This bill is too problematic to work. It would be impossible to prove who is a “reasonable and prudent” person. Even defining exactly what words or gestures would constitute a violation of the law might prove impossible.
It’s an unwieldy statute, too broadly drawn, and fails to justify superseding the First Amendment. This bill should die a quick death.