Is It Your Legal Right To 'Shoot The Bird' In Public?

   By drodriguez  Sep 17, 2009

Road rage may get the best of us sometimes, but is it illegal to express this kind of anger to others?  For David Hackbart, he found out the hard way that one police officer considered his rude gesture to be enough to cite him for disorderly conduct.  A recent Time magazine article reports about Hackbart’s case in which he got into a slight altercation with another driver while parking his car and ended up shooting his middle finger. 


Hackbart reports that he then heard someone else yell out that he should not make that rude gesture.  Hackbart said, “So I was like, How dare that person tell me?  They obviously didn’t see what happened.  Who are they to tell me what to say?  So I flipped that person off.  And then I looked and it was a city of Pittsburgh cop in his car right next to me”.  (Insert a big “Woops”.)


Hackbart was then given the citation from police sergeant Brian Elledge for disorderly conduct.  But, when one examines the law it appears that Hackbart may have been well within his legal rights regarding freedom of expression. 


According to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal director Witold Walczak, “The law is clear that people have the constitutional right to use profanity, especially when it comes to government officials, because that is a form of political speech.  But despite that, we have police officers regularly misapplying the law to punish people who offend them ? that’s really what it comes down to.”


Being cited for disorderly conduct under these false pretenses is nothing new.  Back in 2007 one woman was cited after she was overheard by a neighbor yelling obscenities inside her home when one of her toilets was overflowing.  The neighbor was an undercover police officer.  After going to court the woman was acquitted on all charges and given a $19,000 settlement from the city.  Walczak believes the state police need to revise their training manuals and guidelines so as to make it clear to officers what type of behavior is legal.



Do you think Hackbart should have been cited for disorderly conduct after flipping off a police officer?


Should it be legal for police officers to hand out citations to people who use bad language or hand gestures in public?


Make a Comment

Aspiringauthor09 by Aspiringauthor09 | LAKEVILLE, PA
Jul 14, 2010

That's ridiculous! Flipping someone off is just a form of freedom of expression just like this blog is right now. I think that "some people" are trying to make this world a better place, not by becoming a better person or changing themselves, but instead by controlling people's lives in order to make them "fit the great-neighbor-clean-town-happy-family mold that they've set up. Nevertheless, they have no right to control other people. What they did to that man is illegal, and they better not do it to me or I'll do a like more than give them the middle finger; I'll sue!!!

AimeeAken by AimeeAken | Omaha, NE
Nov 19, 2009

I think people have freedom of choice to do what they want in life.. They should at least have common sense and be decent enough to make sure they are not doing anything stupid in front of children, but other than that you are free to be.

brandy09 by brandy09 | portsmouth, VA
Oct 15, 2009

The "middle finger" we go! It is our right to flip the bird, you are not saying anything right? I mean give me a break, if I have Tourrette's Syndrome should I stay in my house? People are too busy in their own lives to worry about which finger we are holding least they should be!

maggie_elizabeth by maggie_elizabeth | Conway, AR
Oct 13, 2009

monetz says: September 23, 2009 03:55 PM If those who make the laws had to follow them or else pay the penalty, then there would not be anyone around to enforce the laws! The government has been flipping the bird to the tax payers of this country for years but they use the excuse that they are doing it for the common good. Thus I see nothing wrong in flipping the bird right back at them. YOU GO GIRL!! I TOTALLY AGREE!!!!

UCILikeFrogs by UCILikeFrogs | Adams, MA
Oct 07, 2009

I think he was in his rights to do what he did.

Alyssarae92293 by Alyssarae92293 | BOYNTON BEACH, FL
Oct 07, 2009

NO its not ok to shoot the bird in public. Its disrespectful and tacky. Its just not right, what if other people have their small children around while you are doing that. Deal with a bad situation in a classier way in public.

latinamom by latinamom | Kaufman, TX
Oct 01, 2009

It's all about controlling ourselves. We all have a right to freedom of expression. Just as Hackbart had a right to flip off the other driver, the other driver has his rights too. He could have responded and then this could have gone a whole different way if the cop was not there. I think the cop in saying Hackbart should not flip out the other driver was trying to prevent this from going any further as we all know it can. People have been physically injured and even murdered in road rage disputes. As to cussing to yourself or an object because it's broken or because you dropped it, that is completely different than to cussing someone else out, and we all know what that finger means. I think the one who has controll issues here is Hackbart. What is he going to go on flipping everyone off who does something that bothers him. Grow up man!

maureenhopper-0 by maureenhopper-0 | Queens, NY
Sep 29, 2009

when my father was in his early 20's he actually went to jail for lipping off a police officer. It's crazy what people can do with their authority, instead of picking up local drug dealers, they're arresting people for showing a form of expression. And most people just flip and leave, it's not like they are trying to fight the officer.

Marsie35 by Marsie35 | Avon Lake, OH
Sep 29, 2009

Hmmm, I would probably refrain from doing it, but I do not believe he should have been cited. Sounds like the cop has some control issues.

mommymomo by mommymomo | daytona beach, FL
Sep 25, 2009

Yes, I believe it is your right.. Do I find it acceptable? No, however, I would prefer not to see men in speedos, or women in thongs. I dislike seeing the latest fad of wearing pants below the butt. I alos dislike seeing but cracks. But, it is our right to express ourselves, and noone should take it away from any of us. I agree it may be rude and childish, but it is just a finger. Now, if someone gets rowdy and takes it father, well that may be a disorderly consuct sort of thing!

lbowlus by lbowlus | Flower Mound, TX
Sep 24, 2009

if a person is exhibiting disorderly conduct they should be ticketed. If the guy flipped the bird to a cop, he was obviously disrespecting the cops authority for some reason. He should have gotten a ticket

momoffive by momoffive | Mobile, AL
Sep 24, 2009

I think it was wrong on the man's part for flipping the bird to the officer. Whether or not the officer did anything or not, we should hold our respect and heads to a higher standard.

jenndta69 by jenndta69 | SHERMAN OAKS, CA
Sep 24, 2009

Flipping the bird is part of freedom of speech however, I try to teach my daughter everyday to respect authority. It might be legally alright, but it's just plain tacky!

MrsMcCarley by MrsMcCarley | Guntown, MS
Sep 24, 2009

I think there are alot of more important issues going on in our towns, cities, neighborhoods, etc.... than if someone gives a cop or "official" the finger. People really need to get their priorities in order and quit whining over something so childish.

grandma2 by grandma2 | HORTONVILLE, WI
Sep 24, 2009

I wish people here would just answer the question without addding "feelings" and personal emotions into the picture. Question is: Do you think Hackbart should have been cited for disorderly conduct after flipping off a police officer? It appears the law is in favor of Hackbart. It is unfortunate that this is rude and can not express himself in a more civilized manner. Question 2 is: Should it be legal for police officers to hand out citations to people who use bad language or hand gestures in public? If the situation warrents it ABSOLUTELY. It is the police officers judgment at that point and if the court finds otherwise than so be it, but we must let our law enfourcement officers do their jobs and then if we disagree go through our legal means to change it, not lower ourselves to their level.