Giving “the finger” is protected speech under the First Amendment

August 15, 2017

NEW ORLEANS -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana sent a letter today to Louisiana State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves condemning retaliatory action taken against a driver who gestured at a state trooper with his middle finger.

Last year, a driver was pulled over on Interstate 20 near Rayville and issued a citation after giving a state trooper “the finger” as he drove past. Even though the driver had only gestured at the officer, he was charged with “public intimidation,” a felony defined as “the use of violence, force, or threats upon [a public officer or public employee] with the intent to influence his conduct in relation to his position, employment, or duty.” The state attorney who reviewed the citation declined to prosecute the case.

“This gesture is protected speech,” wrote ACLU of Louisiana executive director Marjorie R. Esman. “Among the freedoms this country provides is the right to criticize the government and public officials, including police officers.”

“We appreciate that the job of policing in the 21st century can be difficult, and we hope your officers will focus on more serious and legitimate threats to public safety rather than on actions that violate the rights of the public,” Esman concluded.

The letter is online here: https://www.laaclu.org/sites/default/files/2017_la_state_police_first_amendment_letter.pdf

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