Jackson, MI — Freedom of speech, in the land of the free, is not guaranteed. Despite the wording of the First Amendment, claiming that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,” there are countless laws across the country designed to do exactly that. However, even when there aren’t archaic anti-speech laws on the books, police will all too often deprive people of their freedom — for practicing their freedom.
For saying, “fuck you” to a police officer in Jackson, Michigan, Tracy Leroy Smith was beaten, kidnaped, jailed and tried. What started as a neighborly feud over dog poop quickly escalated thanks to a police officer’s lack of Constitutional knowledge.
The incident happened in 2015 when officer Thomas Tinklepaugh, with the Jackson police department, was investigating a complaint about a dog pooping in a vacant lot. Smith apparently fit the description of a person allowing his dog to poop in a lot.
As FOX 47 reports, Tinklepaugh first talked with Smith’s wife, Michelle Barlond-Smith. Tracy Smith admits he was profane, repeatedly saying “f— you” to the officer while his wife asked him to “Be nice.” Tinklepaugh asked him to stop swearing in front of children and threatened to charge him with being disorderly. Smith responded by saying “f— you” three more times at which point he was arrested.
According to the lawsuit, a video shows Tinklepaugh “slam” Smith onto the hood of the police vehicle and then violently take him to the ground causing serious injury to Smith. Smith later went to the emergency room to be treated for his injuries, according to the suit.
According to the lawsuit, Smith was originally only charged with disorderly conduct. However, Smith says the charges were changed to Assaulting-Resisting-Obstructing an officer once Tinklepaugh realized the Michigan Court of Appeals had thrown out the state’s obscenity law in 2004.
According to FOX 47, the 12th District Court found there was no probable cause for an arrest and refused to bind Smith over for trial on the felony charge. The 4th Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals later shot down the prosecutor’s attempt to establish probable cause by arguing that Smith interfered in the investigation into the dog poop by interrupting Officer Tinklepaugh’s conversation with his wife. Those courts also rejected the prosecutor’s argument that probable cause could have been based on Smith’s words being loud enough to violate Jackson’s noise ordinance.
Now, two years later, instead of the officer responsible for arresting a man for his freedom of speech, it will be the taxpayers who are held accountable in the form of a lawsuit.
Should Smith have been polite to the officer? Of course. However, being an asshole is not illegal and a person’s right to nonviolent speech should never be removed.
In the land of the free, a person can be kidnapped and thrown in a cage for arbitrary sounds made with their mouth that cause harm to no one.
Aside from this being clearly asinine, it’s well-established by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional.
In Cohen v. California, the U.S. Supreme court upheld a citizen’s First Amendment right to wear a jacket to court that read “Fuck the Draft,” the court held:
“For, while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric. Indeed, we think it is largely because governmental officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the Constitution leaves matters of taste and style so largely to the individual.”
What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in City of Houston v. Hill, that police must tolerate even more abusive speech than an average citizen. The court concluded that “in the face of verbal challenges to police action, officers and municipalities must respond with restraint,” and added that, “the First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers.”
Here at the Free Thought Project, we feel there are no such things as ‘bad words’ but, rather, certain words some people don’t like to hear.
The arbitrary nature of government enforcing laws that dictate what vocabulary a person can use is as ridiculous as it is tyrannical. Sadly, it remains a part of society.
Telling people what words they can and can’t say to ‘protect’ others is chilling. Freedom of speech does not come with terms and conditions as words alone, less the obvious yelling “fire” in a movie theater, cannot cause physical harm.
Have we learned nothing from history?