Kentucky Legislators Seek to Pass Law Making It a Crime to Taunt a Police Officer

AP Photo/Noah Berger

In the latest episode of “Who’s That Statist,” Kentucky state lawmakers are introducing legislation that would outlaw saying certain words to an officer of the law. Indeed, if passed, the proposal would make it illegal to hurl insults or taunts at a police officer.

Fox News reported:

A bill advancing out of a Kentucky Senate committee on Thursday would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer to the point where the taunts provoke a violent response.

Senate Bill 211 passed by a 7-3 vote, according to reports. The proposal was a response to riots throughout the country last summer, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, a retired police officer.

State Sen. Carrol told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “In these riots, you see people getting up in officers’ faces, yelling in their ears, doing everything they can to provoke a violent response.”

He continued, “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.”

Despite the content of the bill, Carroll insisted that it was not about “in any way, shape, form or fashion.”

He argued, “This country was built on lawful protest, and it’s something that we must maintain — our citizens’ right to do so. What this deals with are those who cross the line and commit criminal acts.”

The proposal states that a person should be held guilty of disorderly conduct if they insult, challenge, or taunt “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.”

As you might imagine, the proposal is being met with criticism. Democratic state Sen. David Yates slammed the bill, pointing out that the officers he knew are professional enough to control themselves when faced with verbal abuse.”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,” he said.

Corey Shapiro, an attorney working with the ACLU of Kentucky chimed in, noting that the proposal unjustly tamps down on speech. “Verbally challenging police action — even if by insult or offensive language — is a cornerstone of our democracy,” said in an interview with the Courier-Journal. “And the First Amendment protects people’s ability to express themselves, even if it’s using offensive words to the police.”

According to Fox News:

Other provisions in SB 11 would push back against the “defund the police” movement and make a person who “knowingly” provides supplies at a riot — that can be used as weapons or “dangerous instruments” — subject to a riot-in-the-second-degree charge.

“Governmental entities responsible for the funding of the various law enforcement agencies shall maintain and improve their respective financial support to the Commonwealth’s law enforcement agencies,” the bill states.

Kentucky is not the first to consider laws that would criminalize certain types of speech against government officials. Journalist James Cheef wrote a piece discussing a proposal put forth in Virginia’s legislature last year. HB 1627 was ostensibly designed to protect officials from threats and harassment, but, as Cheef noted, “a full reading of the bill shows that it is in fact legislation to shade officials from public criticism.”

It is a well-known fact that police officers have difficult jobs. However, the notion that a person could be arrested for using derogatory speech against officers is a scary prospect. One of the reasons why the First Amendment exists is specifically to allow citizens to criticize members of their government, even if their words are abhorrent.

Moreover, the notion that officers should not be expected to maintain their composure while being insulted is absurd. Indeed, this measure seems intended to further protect officers who would abuse their authority against a citizen.

If a person physically assaults or touches an officer in a way that is aggressive, that is one thing. But the notion that people should be prohibited from shouting their anti-police opinions is the very definition of statism and the precedent that it might set could easily lead to further tyranny.