Good news for people who want to throw "F-bombs" at police officers in Washington State: It's protected by the first amendment. The Washington State Supreme Court handed down on an opinion on Thursday that threw out charges in a 2011 obstruction case in which police were called to a Seattle home for an alleged disturbance.
The case involved a 17-year-old juvenile, identified as “Jordan” by his lawyer, who cursed at officers when they responded to a call at his house. Jordan’s mother had called 911 to ask them to “remove her intoxicated and belligerent daughter.”
In the court’s majority opinion, Associate Chief Justice Charles Johnson said that, while Jordan’s “words may have been disrespectful, discourteous and annoying, they are nonetheless constitutionally protected.”
Seattle Police spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb and the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild said that the ruling was not exactly a surprise.
“I think all of us in this profession have been yelled at and called things not suitable for a family audience,” Whitcomb told the Seattle Times. Whitcomb noted that officers frequently encounter foul language while on the job; it comes with the territory and that’s not a good reason to charge someone with obstruction.
The head of the officers guild, Ron Smith, mentioned that first amendment rights in the United States tend to be pretty lenient.
“We live in a country where burning the sacred U.S. flag is protected speech, so it is not surprising that no matter how vile the language is directed toward a police officer, that speech is, too, protected,” Smith said.
An Office of Professional Accountability report on obstruction charges in Seattle indicate that black residents are disproportionately hit with the charges. The report says that 51 percent of obstruction charges filed in Seattle are against black individuals, but black people only make up 8 percent of the city’s population.