© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kentucky Lawmakers Advance Bill That Would Make It A Crime To Taunt Police Officers

A police officer observes protesters, on Sept. 24, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. Protests in the city erupted followed the decision not to charge officers for killing Breonna Taylor. (John Minchillo/AP)
A police officer observes protesters, on Sept. 24, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. Protests in the city erupted followed the decision not to charge officers for killing Breonna Taylor. (John Minchillo/AP)

As the country prepares for the one-year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s death, lawmakers in Kentucky last week voted to advance a bill that would make it a crime to taunt a police officer.

A new bill advanced by Kentucky lawmakers on Thursday would criminalize individuals who insult a police officer.

A portion of the bill states that a person is guilty 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.” The bill now goes to the House.”

Former police officer and Kentucky state Sen. Danny Carroll says that the law is intended to amend a disorderly conduct statute and that the full context of the paragraph matters.

“All of those actions combined would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response,” he says, adding that videos of people seen insulting officers have no other purpose than to invoke a violent response, for example.

An argument against the bill is that the purpose of that speech is that those individuals without real power are crying out for justice. And the American Civil Liberties Union in Kentucky has opposed the bill, saying that it criminalizes speech.

“This extreme bill is designed to intimidate free speech following the 2020 racial justice protests,” the ACLU of Kentucky tweeted.

Under the bill, if someone is convicted for insulting an officer, the punishment would involve a minimum jail sentence of three months and fines. They would also be disqualified from government assistance for three months.

While Carroll says he supports everyone’s right to protest, he believes certain language can be a form of “assault” to officers. In situations of riots, he says, that kind of language can distract officers.

Once the bill moves to the state House, Carroll says a few changes will narrow its focus to include a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer instead of a reasonable and prudent person.

“Law enforcement officers are held to a higher standard,” Carroll says. “So we’re going to narrow that language down in order to set that standard.”

Police officers have guns and the right to arrest citizens, putting them in a position of power. In terms of if, given the chance, Carroll would pass a law criminalizing police officers insulting citizens, Carroll says that individuals could instead file complaints against the officer.

“If an officer acts to a certain level, they are held accountable for that and they do go to jail,” he says.


Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtJeannette Jones adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.