A bill advancing out of a Kentucky Senate committee on Thursday would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer to the point where the taunts provoke a violent response.
Senate Bill 211 passed by a 7-3 vote, according to reports. The proposal was a response to riots throughout the country last summer, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, a retired police officer.
“In these riots, you see people getting up in officers’ faces, yelling in their ears, doing everything they can to provoke a violent response,” Carroll said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“I’m not saying the officers do that, but there has to be a provision within that statute to allow officers to react to that. Because that does nothing but incite those around that vicinity and it furthers and escalates the riotous behavior,” he continued.
Louisville — Kentucky’s largest city — saw numerous instances of unrest last year over the lack of criminal charges against police officers in connection with the death of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot March 13, 2020, during a police raid inside her home.
Carroll noted the bill wasn’t about limiting lawful protest “in any way, shape, form or fashion.”
“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,” he said.
The bill kept language making a person guilty of disorderly conduct — a Class B misdemeanor — if they accost, insult, taunt, or challenge “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.”
State Sen. David Yates, a Louisville Democrat, criticized the bill’s language, saying police officers he knows are too professional to retaliate violently simply because of words, according to the paper.
“I don’t believe that any of my good officers are going to be provoked to a violent response because somebody does a ‘yo mama’ joke, or whatnot,” Yates said.
“I don’t believe that any of my good officers are going to be provoked to a violent response because somebody does a ‘yo mama’ joke, or whatnot.”
Meanwhile, Corey Shapiro, an attorney with the ACLU of Kentucky, said “the idea that the legislature would be criminalizing speech in such a way is offensive.”
“Verbally challenging police action — even if by insult or offensive language — is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Shapiro told the Courier-Journal. “And the First Amendment protects people’s ability to express themselves, even if it’s using offensive words to the police.”
Other provisions in SB 11 would push back against the “defund the police” movement and make a person who “knowingly” provides supplies at a riot — that can be used as weapons or “dangerous instruments” — subject to a riot-in-the-second-degree charge.
“Governmental entities responsible for the funding of the various law enforcement agencies shall maintain and improve their respective financial support to the Commonwealth’s law enforcement agencies,” the bill states.
The legislation that advanced also removes previous controversial language that would make it a crime to camp overnight on non-campground state property.
The bill will now go to the full Senate and could be passed as early as next week, though not much time will remain in the 30-day session to also make it through the House, according to the paper.