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

SS Member Image By drodriguez 09.17.09
Is It Your Legal Right To 'Shoot The Bird' In Public?
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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?


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  • Pepperjune By Pepperjune

    I think cops now a days need to take one big chill pill. As much as I disagree with the use of profanity on a moral level,I dont think it is something,even if directed at a cop,that they(the police) need to get involved with. Of all the horrible things going on in this world,they are going to cite someone for the use of his middle finger? Cops need to remember,like any job dealing with the public,that there is going to be some jerks out there,and to remain calm. When I was a receptionist,I didnt get to arrest everyone that treated me terrible every stingle day. I had to smile and remain calm. Cops need to think less of themselves and remember to serve and protect others.

  • Heatherann2884 By Heatherann2884

    While I think that cops deserve respect, they're not exempt from having people express their feelings. I don't think it was wrong to flip the officer off in response to his comments. I would say it would be wrong to flip him off just because he is a cop. The cop was in the wrong on this one! I did want to make one note in response to Pepperjune's comment about there being "some jerks", that there aren't "some" jerks that they deal with on a daily basis. It's more like 99% of the people they deal with on a daily basis... It's a tougher job than most of us can even imagine.


    I think censorship is crap, we only make certain words an issue because of our "social norms." Otherwise they are just words. Do I go around cursing like a sailor? No, but these people have the freedom to say whatever they want. If it is something that is going to harm someone, then the offending should be cited but I hardly think words actually cause physical harm. It is only because we make it so.

  • Spaffy By Spaffy

    As most people i know say, people who use profanity have no other way to express themselves, since they dont know any. So what is the differance between someoneing giving the finger, and another person using "big words and fancy talk" to express their feelings. Im not gonna call the pot black, i swear alot, and most times it cuz i cant think of anything else to express my anger or frustration. I also feel that cops do take things out of context and use it to thier power. Like whats going on with tazers now, cops using them all the time when they really dont need to.

  • junconventional By junconventional

    In Virginia - you can take someone to court for "verbal assault". While this is on the books, this is rarely enforced. Police around here have bigger fish to fry and if you gave a citation for profanity then we would have a very busy and overworked court system. These officers are having some kind of power issue and the police should have a day without pay for every power trip they get on.

  • judybird2 By judybird2

    I think some cops are on a power trip. They sure dont have the right to arrest you for this. However, a person that flips the bird is out of control emotionally and needs to take a good look at theirself.

  • magaritas By magaritas

    I think that keeping your bad comments to yourself is what can keep the peace, especially if driving, but sometimes police just go too far when handing out tickets.

  • Turtleks By Turtleks

    My husband is a cop and when i asked him what he thought he said this is retarted and childish on both sides.

  • Bella2008 By Bella2008

    Giving someone a citation for profanity or flipping the bird is ridiculous! Police have much more important things to do: prevention of crime, solving cases after a crime has been committed etc. Now for people who thinks that others curse because they have no other means of expressing themselves, is not always true. I have 2 master's degrees & yes sometimes I will curse in public, if the situation arises. Have you ever dropped your groceries before you even got them into the car? Have you ever had a terrible day at work, & then your car breaks down on the way home? Ever drop anything heavy on your foot? The natural instinct is to curse, which relieves some of the stress/embarassment from the situation. Or you could be a goodie 2 shoes & say darn I just dropped my eggs & now they are broken, & I have just wasted some money!

  • monetz By monetz

    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.

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