In recent times, there have been increasing incidences of police arresting people for criticizing them online, particularly through memes. Due to the First Amendment protections, these cases have been dropped.
But a new bill out of Kentucky aims to try again.
The Senate of the State of Kentucky passed a bill that criminalizes insulting the police. Critics of the bill claimed the legislation would have a chilling effect on free speech and is actually a violation of the First Amendment.
The Senate Bill 211 was brought by Sen Danny Carroll (R-Benton), who is a retired police officer. According to Carroll, the bill will serve as a statement to protesters who “tried to destroy the city of Louisville” during the Breonna Taylor protests and riots last year.
The bill increases penalties on crimes related to rioting and prevents the early release of people found guilty of such crimes. But the controversial part of the bill is the criminalizing of verbally provoking police officers to the extent they feel a violent response is necessary. It passed by a 22 to 11 vote, with six Republicans joining Democrats in voting against it.
Carroll insisted that “insulting an officer is not going to cause anyone to go to jail.” However, according to the Courier Journal, the bill “states a person is guilty of disorderly conduct — a Class B misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 90 days’ imprisonment — if he or she ‘accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges 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.’”
One of the most vocal critics of the bill was Sen. Gerald Neal, of the Democratic party who represents a district in west Louisville which has a majority-black population. He sees the bill as a direct attack to the people who protest racial injustice.
“This is another hammer on my district,” Neal said. “This is a backhand slap. And I resent it. I personally resent it.” During the debate, Neal said “how dare you,” two times. He also said the bill was “beneath this body.”
“It’s unwise. It’s provocative. It’s unnecessary. It’s unreasonable.”
He added that he was confused about the law since there are already laws that criminalize violent riots. According to him, the bill is a roadblock towards the city of Louisville healing, after months of protests fueled by the shooting of Breonna Taylor, by the police.
Fellow Democrat legislator, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, noted that the section criminalizing provoking the police stipulates that those charged are to be held in jail for at least 48 hours. The penalty is not that strict for people charged with more serious crimes such as rape, arson, and murder.
“This bill shatters what we’re working toward healing,” McGarvey said. “This furthers the divide and it puts us legally down a road where I cannot believe this body wants us to go.”
Carroll did not cave to the criticism. He believes the law will help protect property and police officers during protests that turn violent.
“The silent majority in this state supports this legislation,” Carroll said. “They are as troubled by what has happened in this country, by what happened in Louisville, as I am. I will not apologize for this bill.”