A video of a young man being arrested after yelling “f— the police’’ that gained attention online has been referred to internal affairs, a Boston Police Department spokeswoman said.
It’s unknown what occurred before the film began, but as an officer walks toward the man who yelled, the videographer says “these n—– are not gonna arrest him, it’s freedom of speech, right?’’ He then advises the man walking away, “Ask him if you’re getting arrested. If you ain’t getting arrested you can keep it moving, bro.’’
The officer in the video says he is arresting him for disorderly conduct and blocking traffic in the street.
As he’s being arrested, the man yells more expletives and refuses to get in the car. The officer then puts his hands around the man’s neck, and the bystanders react loudly. The man filming yells “Someone’s gonna get shot! Someone’s gonna get shot!’’
“As soon as we were made aware of [the video], the information was relayed to our internal affairs department,’’ Boston police spokeswoman Rachel McGuire said. “There will be an investigation into the officer to see whether his actions were compliant with our rules and regulations.’’
Tom Nolan, an associate professor in criminology at Merrimack College and a former BPD lieutenant, thinks the officer’s actions were justified.
“I would have to say that the video, such as it is, does show a classic case of ‘disorderly person’ and if I were in the situation as a police officer, I more than likely would have arrested the young man as well,’’ he wrote in an email.
“Just because members of the community are exercising their constitutional right to film the police, this does not give them the right to scream and yell and incite bystanders in the street with talk about people getting shot and in using incendiary language to inflame and alarm a quickly assembling crowd of onlookers.’’
Nolan doesn’t know what precipitated the filming, but said that from the video, it looked like he needed to be taken off the street.
Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU of Massachusetts disagreed.
“Even though it may not be the politest way to speak, it’s protected by the First Amendment,’’ she said.
Carl Williams, a racial justice staff attorney with the ACLU, said he noticed three critical things happening in this video. One, police are recording their interactions with civilians—“We’ve been asking for that,’’ he said. (He added that the officer seemed to be using his private cell phone, which Williams said was not ideal.)
Two, there are young people in the urban community of Boston recording police interactions, which he said is a great thing.
Three, the incident provides an example of “an arrest by what police use as a very subjective law: disorderly conduct,’’ Williams said.
Williams said a 1987 Supreme Court case, City of Houston v. Hill, “uses language that pretty much says ‘Police, you got to take it, you have to deal with the language.’’
That case challenged a municipal ordinance that said it was unlawful to interrupt a police officer in the performance of their duty, but the court said that “infringed on the freedoms of individuals to verbally oppose or challenge police action.’’
Jury instructions in Massachusetts say that in order to prove disorderly conduct, the person has to have been engaged in fighting or threatening behavior, violent or tumultuous behavior, or behavior that served no legitimate purpose.
“If you say ‘f— the pigs,’ that is a legitimate purpose,’’ Williams said. “I’m not saying the concept is correct, but I very deeply believe you’re allowed to say it.’’