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Mocking the Police Is Not a Crime

Added 10-05-22 12:21:02am EST - “A First Amendment case prompts 'The Onion' to explain how parody works.” - Reason.com


Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Reason.com: “Mocking the police is not a crime”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

In a Supreme Court brief it filed this week, The Onion claims it was founded in 1756 and has "a daily readership of 4.3 trillion." The brief describes The Onion as "the single most powerful and influential organization in human history," with interests in shipping, strip mining, deforestation, and animal testing as well as journalism.

The case that prompted The Onion's brief is no less ridiculous than the satirical website's patently preposterous puffery. Last April, a federal appeals court said a man could not sue police officers who had arrested him for making fun of them, because the officers could have reasonably thought that their petty vendetta was consistent with the First Amendment.

The spoof of the Parma, Ohio, police department's Facebook page that Anthony Novak created in 2016 was not subtle. It included a job notice that said the department "is strongly encouraging minorities to not apply," a post advertising a police abortion van for teenagers, a warning that Parma had made giving homeless people food a crime so they would "leave our city due to starvation," and an announcement of "our official stay inside and catch up with the family day," during which anyone venturing outside between noon and 9 p.m. would be arrested.

Novak's parody, which was online for just 12 hours, prompted 11 calls to the police department's nonemergency line. Based on that reaction, Novak was arrested and prosecuted for violating a broadly worded state law against using a computer to "disrupt, interrupt, or impair" police services—a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison.

A jury promptly acquitted Novak, perhaps recognizing that the logic underlying the charge against him would justify prosecuting anyone whose online criticism provoked phone calls or protests that incommoded the police in any way. But after Novak sued seven police officers for violating his First Amendment rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that the defendants were protected by "qualified immunity," which shields cops from liability unless their alleged misconduct violated "clearly established" law.


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