A Florida appeals court says cursing is protected free speech even if directed at a police officer.
The Third District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled Wednesday that Miami-Dade police officers overstepped their bounds and violated the Constitution when they arrested Wilbert L. Lee on charges of disorderly conduct for using offensive language.
On the night of Aug. 18, 1999, Lee reportedly yelled, “Why are these crackers f——— with us?” when officers asked him and others in a group of about 20 youths hanging out on a local street corner about suspected drug activity.
Lee was the only one in the group to be arrested and charged.
Not Like Yelling ‘Fire!’ The ruling overturned Lee’s conviction in juvenile court last December, when he was given six months probation.
Donald Jones, a law professor at the University of Miami, said that neither the government nor the police have the right to punish someone for using speech that is protected by the Constitution.
“If all you’re doing is expressing a point of view, the government does not have the power to punish that,” said Jones. “The rule is, the government can only punish speech if there is a clear and present danger,” like yelling “Fire!” in a theater.