Everyone Has the Right to Mouth Off to Cops

Source: City Lab

“Fuck tha police!” The protest refrain provokes feelings of sympathy, ambivalence, or dismay, depending on the listener. It is also a song by the rap group N.W.A., and a young man named Cesar Baldelomar was blasting it from his car last Thanksgiving when Hialeah, Florida, police officer Harold Garzon took offense.

“Really?” Garzon allegedly said to Baldelomar. “You’re really playing that song? Pull over.”

Police response to perceived disrespect is not unusual, as the tragic case of Sandra Bland, who died of a reported but disputed suicide in a Texas jail, has reminded us this week. Bland was driving when she was pulled over on July 10, and a video from arresting State Trooper Brian T. Encinia’s dashcam released this week shows that the officer appears to have escalated a simple traffic stop into a violent arrest—all because he didn’t like that Bland admitted that yes, she was annoyed at being pulled over.

Being rude to police, however, is protected by the First Amendment. And it doesn’t even seem that Bland was particularly rude. Rather, she just honestly responded to his statement: “You seem very irritated.”That should have come as no surprise.

“Newsflash: people don’t like getting pulled over,” says Jason Williamson, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project. “People don’t enjoy interactions with police if they can avoid it.”

“The police officer in the Sandra Bland case and police officers everywhere often respond in kind when they think people are being disrespectful to them,” says Williamson.

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