(The Root) — While stop and frisk, the controversial practice of the New York City Police Department that has been proved to disproportionately target young black and Latino males, faces a serious court challenge, a new state law may render a court ruling to end the practice moot.
The New York Senate has passed a law that would make it a felony to harass an on-duty police officer. But the language of the bill is sure to raise eyebrows among civil libertarians and critics of stop and frisk. The bill would actually make it a crime to “annoy” a police officer.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of “annoy” is “to disturb or irritate especially by repeated acts” or “to harass especially by quick brief attacks.” Both definitions, however, leave a lot open to interpretation, which is precisely the problem with writing into the law a behavior as vague as “annoying” someone.
Such a law seems to create more questions than answers. For instance, if an officer stops someone and the person replies, “With all due respect, I haven’t done anything that warrants being stopped or frisked,” would an officer be able to reply, “I’m going to ask you one more time to cooperate, and if you don’t, you will officially be annoying me and I can take you into custody”?
Or what if someone begins filming an officer’s interaction with someone else out of concerns over possible police brutality. Could an officer say, “Your camera is annoying me, and I can arrest you for that”? Not to mention the issue of free speech.
In 2006, New Yorker John Swartz was arrested for giving an officer the middle finger during a traffic stop. Not until seven years later did a federal appeals court rule in Swartz’s favor after he sued the police department. However, this new law would protect the officer’s behavior.
Despite passing the Senate, the law would not take effect until passing the New York State Assembly. The Root has requested comment from the office of New York state Sen. Joseph Griffo, the law’s chief sponsor, and will update this post should we hear back.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.