The Supreme Court has said yes, but the Pittsburgh police disagree, bringing a man into federal court over a raised middle finger.
The problem is not confined to Pittsburgh. In 2007, a woman in Scranton, Pa., was cited for yelling obscenities at an overflowing toilet in her home – a tirade overheard by her neighbor, an off-duty police officer. She was later acquitted on constitutional grounds, and the city paid her a $19,000 settlement. “We probably handle a dozen of these cases every year,” Walczak says. “We’re actually negotiating with the state police right now, trying to force them to change their training and written materials to make clear you can’t do this.”
This problem of police unconstitutionally misusing laws to punish those who annoy or insult them is widespread and, it seems, perpetuated by police training. Yet another reason why you should never talk to cops.Published in