30 July 2009

Gates and the Duran case

As mentioned in a previous post, I don't think the key point we should focus on in the Gates fiasco is race. My Left Wing points us to the insightful rule in Duran v. City of Douglas Arizona. The case began when "Plaintiff Ralph Duran directed a series of expletives and an obscene hand gesture at defendant Gilbert Aguilar, a police officer. Officer Aguilar responded by detaining and arresting Duran, who, along with his wife, now brings this lawsuit for injuries he suffered during the incident."

In his ruling, Kozinski (a Reagan appointee) wrote:

Thus, while police, no less than anyone else, may resent having obscene words and gestures directed at them, they may not exercise the awesome power at their disposal to punish individuals for conduct that is not merely lawful, but protected by the First Amendment. . . . Inarticulate and crude as Duran's conduct may have been, it represented an expression of disapproval toward a police officer with whom he had just had a run-in. As such, it fell squarely within the protective umbrella of the First Amendment and any action to punish or deter such speech-such as stopping or hassling the speaker-is categorically prohibited by the Constitution.

This is right on. All of us, in our work, come across people who are extremely annoying, who call names, and by doing so, make our day a bit more miserable than necessary. But we don't have the right to arrest such people (not even to put them under a citizens arrest!) If such actions aren't a crime when they happen to us, it's hard for me to see what makes them a crime when directed toward a police officer. In the end, in the big picture of things, it's all about creating a country where people cower in front of authority, whether that authority carries a gun or rides a limousine.

1 comment:

Martin Langeland said...

Does this same logic apply to people who annoy merely by being fat?