Kentucky lawmakers advance bill to criminalize insulting police

Lawmakers in Kentucky have advanced a bill that, in part, seeks to criminalize insulting or taunting police officers in a way that could provoke a violent response.

The bill says a person can be charged with the Class B misdemeanor of disorderly conduct if the individual “Accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words, or by gestures or other physical contact, that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.” 

A Class B misdemeanor in Kentucky is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $250. 

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The provision against insulting officers is included in a larger bill that seeks to increase penalties for violence and criminal acts related to riots. 

That legislation passed out of a state Senate committee last week and now goes to the full chamber for a vote.

It comes in the aftermath of demonstrations that erupted after Louisville police shot and killed Breonna Taylor last summer. 

The death of Taylor, along with George Floyd and other Black people last year at the hands of police, prompted months of protests that at times turned violent as people across the country called for an end to systemic racism and police brutality. 

The Kentucky legislation also says a person can be found guilty of disorderly conduct in the second degree “when in a public place and with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm,” participates in violent or threatening behavior, makes “unreasonable noise,” refuses to obey orders to disperse or “creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose.” 

The sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Danny Carroll (R), told NBC affiliate WAVE that the legislation is a response both to the violence and vandalism in Louisville last year, as well as the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

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“This [bill] is not about lawful protest in any way, shape, form or fashion,” said Carroll, who is also a retired police officer. “This country was built on lawful protest and it’s something we must maintain our citizens’ right to do so. What this deals with are those who cross the line and commit criminal acts.” 

“If you see the riots, you see people getting in these officers’ faces, yelling in their ears, doing anything they can to provoke a violent response,” he added. 

Democratic lawmakers have opposed the bill, including state Sen. David Yates, who called the legislation “dangerous.” 

“I think by us having that kind of language in here, it makes my stomach turn, because I don’t believe any of my good officers are going to provoke a violent response because someone does a ‘your mama’ joke or whatnot,” Yates told WAVE. 

The ACLU of Kentucky has also condemned the proposed legislation, with legal director Corey Shapiro telling the local news outlet, “It’s a cornerstone of our democracy that people should be able to verbally challenge police actions, even if it's offensive, even if it’s using words that people don’t like.”