Federal Lawsuit Claims Flip-Off Gesture Is Protected Speech
PITTSBURGH — A federal judge said a man who flipped his middle finger at a Pittsburgh police officer shouldn’t have been cited for disorderly conduct.
David Hackbart, of Pittsburgh, said he made the gesture at another driver while trying to back into a parking space on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill in April 2006.
When he heard someone else yelling at him, Hackbart gave the finger again — not realizing that the second person was a police officer.
“While flipping somebody off or using profane language may not be pleasant, it is constitutionally protected speech, especially when it’s uttered towards a public official,” said Vic Walczak, of the American Civil Liberties Union, when he sued on Hackbart’s behalf in September.
U.S. District Judge David Cercone filed a 19-page decision Monday, agreeing that the gesture was protected under free speech.
Still to be determined at an upcoming trial is whether city police were improperly trained. The ACLU claims city police have filed 188 citations for similar offenses in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
“The police need to understand that they’re not Miss Manners, they can’t be enforcing nice language, and that it’s inappropriate for them to use the criminal laws to punish somebody because they may use profane language,” Walczak said in September.