You Said What? Gates and Heated Speech to Police Officers During an Arrest

08/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Emma Coleman Jordan Professor best known for establishing the field of economic justice in legal theory.

The Gates arrest has produced a large quantity of commentary. However, there is very little directed to the legal boundaries of what Constitutional protections are available for a citizen who objects to an arrest.

NPR Opinion has published my essay: "You Said What? : First Amendment Protection of Heated Speech to Police Officers During An Arrest" for Opinion.

The arrest of Professor Henry Skip Gates outside his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts is hotly disputed--in part--because it brought about a murky interaction of three competing legal principles. First, the fact that the arrest took place on the porch of Professor Gates' home invokes a well-established American legal tradition of recognizing that the home is the castle of its owner with certain legal protections that are not available in any other space. Second, we depend upon police officers for our safety, and our legal rules necessarily give officers on duty protections above and beyond normal citizens. Even so, heated verbal exchanges with police officers do not constitute a crime. And finally, vaguely worded statutes that criminalize assertive, even aggressive speech as "disorderly conduct" after "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior," are vulnerable to constitutional attack for vagueness

continue to NPR opinion here