Attorney Pepin Tuma probably knows the law when it comes to expressing your First Amendment rights in front of police officers. It’s something you would hope they teach in the first year of law school.
Unfortunately, Washington D.C. police haven’t a clue.
They arrested Tuma Saturday night after the 33-year-old attorney chanted, “I hate the police. I hate the police.”
The charge: Disorderly conduct.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Disorderly conduct is the charge cops use when they can’t think of an actual crime committed.
It happened in my arrest. It happened in the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates. And it has happened on many of the contempt of cop arrests I write about.
Tuma, who is gay, said police pushed him against an electric utility box, ordering him to “shut up, faggot.”
Tuma had spent the evening with friends complaining about the arrest of professor Gates, saying that police had overreacted.
The conversation continued as the group of friends walked down the street, coming across five or six cop cars in an apparent traffic stop on the other side of the street.
Tuma then began his chant. “I hate the police. I hate the police.”
One officer took it personal.
“Hey! Hey! Who do you think you’re talking to?” Tuma recalled the officer shouting as he strode across an intersection to where Tuma was standing. “Who do you think you are to think you can talk to a police officer like that?” the police officer said, according to Luke Platzer, 30, one of Tuma’s companions.
Tuma said he responded, “It is not illegal to say I hate the police. It’s not illegal to express my opinion walking down the street.”
The cop pushed Tuma against the utility box, calling him a faggot as he slapped handcuffs on him. Tuma spent a few hours in jail before he was released.
He has filed a complaint and is considering suing.
Every state or district has their own interpretation of disorderly conduct.
D.C.’s disorderly conduct statute bars citizens from breaching the peace by doing anything “in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to others” or by shouting or making noise “either outside or inside a building during the nighttime to the annoyance or disturbance of any considerable number of persons.”
The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has said that the city’s disorderly conduct law is “confusing, overbroad, frequently used by police to harass disfavored individuals” and that it “violates constitutional rights of free speech, assembly and petition.”
In Florida, an appeals court ruled the following about disorderly conduct:
Words alone do not constitute disorderly conduct. Defendant must engage in physical contact towards an officer that affects the officers (sic) ability to do his or her job, or breach peace or otherwise incite others to act.
New York Times columnist Maureen Down even interviewed her “friend,” Miami Police Chief John Timoney, who told her the following:
There’s a fine line between disorderly conduct and freedom of speech. It can get tough out there, but I tell my officers, ‘Don’t make matters worse by throwing handcuffs on someone. Bite your tongue and just leave.’ ”
The Miami police officers in the above picture did not get the memo.