Cussing at a cop while black

This began as a driving while black case.

Reginald Burks was taking his kids to school in Ozark, Alabama (pop. 14,000) when the white cop pulled him over for speeding in a 25 mph zone.

Burks asked how fast he was going. The cop didn’t know. His radar didn’t work, so he estimated Burks’ speed, NBC News says here; another source, News Nation, says here that Burks was cited for 3 mph over. That’s crazy.

Every court I know would dismiss that ticket, but Burks was hit with $211.12 of fines and court costs. That sounds crazy, too. Burks has a theory: White cop, white judge, driving while black. “Most of the time, all you see is Black African Americans getting arrested or locked up or ticketed for something crazy for no reason,” he said. “I’m just sick of it.” He’s in a position to know.

Burks paid the fine, but the judge wasn’t through. After writing him up the cop stood in front of his car. Burks politely asked him to move, and when that didn’t work, he said, “Get your ass out of the way so I can take my kids to school. That’s why y’all underpaid because y’all act dumb.”

For that, the judge ordered him to write a letter of apology to the cop or spend 30 days in jail. Burks is refusing on principle, and has retained a lawyer.

All I know this judge is name, Nicholas Bull, and this is a picture of the Ozark, Alabama, municipal courtroom. In Alabama, municipal judges have to be lawyers (see statute here), so he must be a lawyer. I’m curious why he would (a) sentence Burks to jail for an offense he wasn’t charged with, and (b) doesn’t realize there’s a ton of caselaw saying cussing at cops is protected by the First Amendment (see article here).

As this source says, “You may even get away with calling cops ‘pigs,’ although, again, we wouldn’t recommend it,” however, if “you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime for yelling or swearing at a police officer, you should refrain from hurling more insults at the cops and instead contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately,” which sounds like great advice; but as any attorney will tell you, people think of this stuff after they’ve been arrested.

I have my suspicions about what’s going on in this case. Remember, this is Alabama. It looks to me like a white judge is trying to put a black man in his place for speaking disrespectfully to a white authority figure.

If Burks and his attorney take this case to federal court, that will cost the city much more than the fine he paid. If he’s already served jail time for refusing to apologize, he can sue for wrongful imprisonment, because I don’t see how you can jail someone for exercising a constitutional right and not pay damages.

Who knows? This case might even go the Supreme Court, if the city fights the law and common sense. But if they have any brains, they’ll drop the matter right now, before it goes any further.

Photo: If a cop is a pig, I don’t see why you should get in trouble for calling him what he is.

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