A new Kentucky bill would criminalize insulting or taunting a police officer

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A new Kentucky bill would criminalize insulting or taunting a police officer
Police officers move past Louisville City Hall in Kentucky on September 23, 2020.Carlos Barria/REUTERS
  • A Kentucky Senate committee advanced a bill that would make it a crime to insult a police officer.
  • The offense would be punishable with a $250 fine or a temporary loss of public assistance benefits.
  • Opponents say the bill violates freedom of speech and is a step towards quashing lawful protests.

A Kentucky Senate committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer to the level that it could elicit a response during a riot, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

Senate Bill 211 would allow for up to three months of imprisonment for an individual who "accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words" or initiates "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."

Any individual who is convicted of this misdemeanor charge could be subject to a $250 fine or lose public assistance benefits for three months.

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The bill also contains a provision that government entities who appropriate money for law enforcement have to "maintain and improve their respective financial support" to those agencies, a direct rebuttal to police abolition movements.

The bill moved through a Senate committee on a party-line vote with all Republicans in favor, and will go to the full Senate, where it could possibly pass this week. The GOP-controlled state House of Representatives would then have to pass the bill.

While supporters laud the change as a way to maintain order against provocateurs, opponents say it violates freedom of speech and is a step towards quashing lawful protests.

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GOP state Sen. Danny Carroll, the bill's lead sponsor and a retired police officer, told a legislative committee that the legislation was meant to respond to last summer's unrest in many US cities, including Louisville, the commonwealth's largest city.

"This is not about lawful protest in any way, shape, form or fashion," Carroll said, according to the Courier-Journal. "This country was built on lawful protest, and it's something that we must maintain - our citizens' right to do so. What this deals with are those who cross the line and commit criminal acts."

After the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last May, demonstrations sprouted across the country by Black Lives Matter activists and ordinary citizens, setting off a racial reckoning that gained prominence in the public sphere.

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Louisville was a center of civil rights and racial justice protests last year following the March death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed in her home during a police raid.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky lambasted the legislation as "an extreme bill to stifle dissent."

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